Judge rules James Bradley murder case can move forward

James Bradley is a suspect in the death of Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk. (Source: NHC Jail)
James Bradley is a suspect in the death of Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk. (Source: NHC Jail)
Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk has been missing since early April. (Source: WPD)
Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk has been missing since early April. (Source: WPD)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - James Bradley, the suspect in the death of Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk, was in court Friday morning as a probable cause hearing continued.

Bradley has been charged with Vannewkirk's death, but prosecutors had to prove probable cause to a judge for the charges to stay applicable, since Vannewkirk's body has not yet been found.

A judge said Friday there is more than enough probable cause to proceed in the murder case.

In a statement, District Attorney Ben David said:

We are obviously very pleased with Judge Ray's ruling. Weagree with it. We agree with her statement that there is more than enoughprobable cause at this point to sustain his continued incarceration and to havethis case move forward. As I indicated in court this is not the end of theinvestigation, in many ways it is only the beginning we still have a lot ofwork to do with respect to Elisha Tucker's case and we might want to expeditetesting in that. We have a lot more to do with bringing justice to ShannonRippy's case and trying to locate where she is. And so, these officers who havealready worked hundreds of hours I know are going to continue to put in thatwork to see that justice is done for both of these women and to bring justiceto this whole situation.

Shannon's brother Shawn Dayton, said for his family, the ruling brought a sense of relief. "We were relieved, that's what we were hoping for, it's just a sense of relief."

He said as detectives continue to investigate his sister's murder, he'll continue his search for her. "We'll keep searching for Shannon, that's our ultimate goal, is to find where she is and bring her home."

Ben David's closing arguments

"We have a defendant, who through training and experience has become efficient at hiding evidence," said District Attorney Ben David during his closing arguments on Friday.

David said after listening to testimony from Vannewkirk's friends and family about her character, she had a strong motive to live her life. He said nothing was missing from her apartment, no bags were gone, she was a happy person, and she had future plans including a birthday lunch with her family.

David argued that numerous searches have gone on since her disappearance and if she died suddenly or killed herself, Vannewkirk would have been found already.

David mentioned the remains of Elisha Tucker and said, "We didn't find the wrong body, we found another one."  During testimony, he explained that Bradley is also a suspect in her homicide.  He argued that you can't say the case is irrelevant because Tucker's remains were found behind a combination locked gate and Bradley was one of just a few with access to it.

David pointed out that before Vannewkirk disappeared on April 5, Bradley called her 18 times and after April 5, he was the only one of her close friends that didn't continue to call her.

David said Bradley's Internet search history showed him searching how to defeat cell phone tracking.  Previous testimony showed that both Bradley's and Vannewkirk's phones stopped sending GPS signals on Saturday night and Bradley's didn't start sending signals again until Sunday morning.

David said that Bradley wasn't truthful with investigators about Saturday night, changing his story before finally admitting he was with Vannewkirk. During previous testimony, David pointed out that even Bradley's final version of the story, where he claimed that he drove Vannewkirk around Greenfield Lake and got into a heated argument before Vannewkirk got out of his truck and ran away, didn't check out when compared to physical evidence.

David also pointed out that Bradley wasn't truthful with investigators when discussing how he was convicted of killing his 8-year-old stepdaughter, Ivy Gipson, in 1988. When he was interviewed in early April, Bradley told detectives he woke up next to the deceased girl and hid her body to protect his family. However, records show that he confessed in 1990 to beating and strangling the girl to death before hiding her body in a dumpster.

David also explained how Bradley told investigators, unsolicited, that he was "the last person to see Shannon alive." Detective Kevin Tully, testified saying Bradley made the statement twice throughout the course of an interview.

David went on to say that the Ivy Gipson murder proves that Bradley staged a crime scene before. According to David, police reports showed that Bradley first told officers that it seemed to be a kidnapping, and dumped Gipson's lunchbox along the side of the road to make it look like that. David said Bradley later admitted to hiding Gipson's body in a hard to find place.

David responded to the defense suggestion that if they had probably cause earlier, why didn't they arrest Bradley then, and not wait until April 29th when the body first thought to be Vannewkirk, and later found to be Tucker, was discovered. David claims at that point they were still trying to build a case and were keeping an eye on Bradley.


According to the defense, all of the evidence was gathered by April 17 and most was gathered by April 15, yet Bradley was not arrested until April 29 when they found a body they thought was Vannewkirk. Defense Attorney, Richard Miller, argued since the remains were Elisha Tucker, and not Vannewkirk, that evidence and case are not relevant this murder case.

Miller then argued if they had probably cause by April 17, why would the WPD leave a "vicious killer on the street?" He stressed that nothing changed and no new evidence was gathered between April 17 through April 29 and that he doesn't think there is probable cause.

Det. Kevin Tully with the WPD

Before the closing arguments, Detective Kevin Tully with the Wilmington Police Department finished his testimony.

Tully said after Bradley changed his story about Saturday - first saying he wasn't with Vannewkirk - then saying he picked her up and drove around for an hour and a half and then dropped her off at Village Market. Bradley's final version of that night was that they drove around Greenfield Lake arguing and Vannewkirk got out of his car and ran away.

Tully said Bradley admitted to being with Vannewkirk on Saturday from about 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Vannewkirk's phone stopped sending signals around 7 p.m.

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