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Jury finds Stephen Rankin guilty of voluntary manslaughter, recommends 2.5 year sentence

Posted at 7:00 AM, Aug 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-05 11:25:50-04

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - A jury has found former Portsmouth Police Officer Stephen Rankin guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the 2015 shooting death of 18-year-old William Chapman and recommended a sentence of 2.5 years in prison.

The verdict was announced just after 3:30 p.m. Thursday, on what was the second day of deliberations by the jury.

News 3 crews inside the courtroom reported that Chapman's mother could be heard crying loudly as the decision was announced.

The jury found Rankin not guilty of first-degree or second-degree murder and not guilty on a use of firearm charge.

Additional witnesses from both the defense and commonwealth testified before the jury bean deliberations on a recommended sentence.

The defense wanted to prevent Earl Lewis, cousin of the victim and family spokesman, from testifying during the sentencing phase. They argued that Lewis did not meet the criteria of a victim in the case, but the judge disagreed and allowed Lewis to be a witness.

Lewis was called as the only witness by the prosecution during the sentencing phase, saying he affectionately knew Chapman as "little William."

He compared himself to William Chapman, saying he had wanted Chapman to enter the military similar to his own service. He also broke down in tears on the witness stand while talking about the financial burden while discussing burial or cremation options with Chapman's mother following his death.

The first defense witness called during the sentencing phase was another Portsmouth Police Officer, Officer Sylvia, who testified that Rankin was a "great individual, a trustworthy guy and I would trust him with my life."

Officer Ledbetter, also with the Portsmouth Police Department, was the second defense witness to take the stand. He testifed that he worked with Rankin on the streets, calling him "knowledgeable." Ledbetter estimated that he had been on at least 25 calls with Rankin and found him to be reputable and trustworthy. When cross-examined by the defense, Ledbetter acknowledged he was not there the day Chapman was shot and killed.

Shortly after 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Stephen Rankin himself took the stand again as a witness during the sentencing phase. He talked about his military service, enlisting in the Navy after September 11th.  Rankin testified that became a member of the Portsmouth Police Department because of the "great morale" calling his fellow officers some of the greatest people.

When asked if he had anything to say to the Chapman family, Rankin said in part "I think this is a terrible tragedy" and "I wish none of this had ever occurred. I can't begin to fathom how much pain that family is going through after losing a loved one."

Following Rankin's testimony, the defense rested their case for the sentencing phase and the judge read members of the jury instructions. Final statements then began.

Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Morales asked the jury to give Rankin "every second" of the 10 years they can recommend for the voluntary manslaughter conviction.

"Please give him the 10 years he deserves," Morales stated.

Defense Attorney James Broccoletti in his closing statement said Rankin had lived an "exemplary" and "civic-minded" life.

"You cannot under any stretch of the imagination forget the conduct that was involved in this case by both parties. That has to factor in to your sentencing decision," Broccoletti said.

Broccoletti asked the jury not to recommend any time in jail, saying "to incarcerate him serves no purpose" saying the verdict itself sends a message since Rankin is now a convicted felon who lost his job.

In response, Morales told the jury, "10 years is not too much to ask for the life of William Chapman."

At 4:54 p.m. the judge sent the jury into deliberations to recommend a sentence.

Just before 6:30 p.m., the jury returned to the courtroom and recommended a 2.5 year sentence.

The jury had several options in sentencing, and could have recommended between  1 to 10 years in prison, up to 12 months in jail, a fine up to $2,500 or up to 12 months in jail and a fine up to $2,500.

The Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Morales asked the judge to revoke Rankin's bond but the request was denied.

Rankin will be formally sentenced on October 12.

Rankin was on trial for shooting and killing Chapman in the parking lot of a Portsmouth Walmart on Frederick Blvd. in April of 2015. After an investigation, Rankin was indicted on first-degree murder.

Earlier Thursday morning, the defense told the court they had video of a woman talking to one of the jurors  on Wednesday. The defense told the court they pulled cameras that prove the woman, "Ms. James," was talking to the juror. Defense Attorney James Broccoletti said he saw Ms. James hugging William Chapman's mom outside of court, showing "vested interest" in the case.

The Commonwealth's Attorney, Stephanie Morales, told the court she has not seen the video of the alleged interaction between Ms. James and juror but will review it.

News 3's Margaret Kavanagh reported Ms. James could be seen shaking her head 'no' in court during the discussion.

Broccoletti wanted the alleged incident with Ms. James speaking to juror put on the record, as it could be used in appeal.

Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Morales told the court everything on the security tapes matches up with what Ms. James told the judge about her interaction with the juror.

In accepting the disc containing the security footage from the defense, the judge instructed that it not go to the jury room. It is not considered evidence in the case, but rather is being entered as on the record in the court file.

Just before 12:30 p.m. Thursday, the jurors returned to the courtroom again because a female juror had asked to see a Sheriff Deputy's belt. The deputy told her he was not a police officer. The judge reminded jury not to speculate and only consider evidence and testimony that has been presented in court.

The trial began on Wednesday, July 27 with the jury selection process and continued Thursday with opening statements from the prosecution and defense, as well as testimonies from police officers, firefighters, Virginia State Police investigators and a person shopping at the Walmart that day.

On Friday, the judge, jurors and lawyers took a trip to Walmart to give the jury a better perspective of where the shooting took place. Later that day, the jury was shown the taser video taken the day Chapman was shot and killed. A Walmart security guard testified and described the shooting and verbal confrontation between Rankin and Chapman. He was cross-examined before the Commonwealth rested their case.

Four construction workers who saw the shooting took the stand on Monday and gave their recollections of what happened.

Rankin took the stand in his own defense Tuesday morning.  He was on the stand for two and a half hours.  Rankin spent 90 minutes answering questions from his lawyer and then spent 60 minutes being crossed examined by Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Morales.

During closing arguments, Defense Attorney James Broccoletti said that if Chapman had just walked away he would not been shot and killed and Rankin would have called for back up.

Morales told the jury again to not leave their common sense at the door.  She said the same statement during her opening statements. Morales also pointed to her star witness, the loss prevention officer at Walmart and wants the jury to remember his testimony.

The jury spent all day Wednesday deliberating before being released at 5:30 p.m.

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