Jury selected in Bradley murder trial; opening statements to begin Thursday

PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The murder trial for James Bradley is set to begin after 12 jurors and three alternates were seated in Pender County Wednesday.

Opening statements are expected to begin at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in New Hanover County Superior Courtroom 401. The trial is expected to last several weeks.

Bradley, 54, of Wilmington, is charged with first-degree murder in the presumed death of his coworker, Shannon Rippy Van Newkirk, who was last seen alive April 5, 2014, at a bar in downtown Wilmington.

When questioned by detectives, Bradley, who was convicted in 1988 of killing his 8-year-old stepdaughter, Ivy Gipson, admitted he was "the last person to see [Van Newkirk] alive," but denies involvement in her disappearance or death.

In the search for Van Newkirk on April 29, 2014, investigators found a body wrapped in trash bags in a makeshift grave on a plot of land in Pender County Bradley had ties to through his landscaping work. Investigators initially believed the body was Van Newkirk's, but an autopsy later identified the remains as Elisha Tucker, a Wilmington woman who had been missing since August 2013.

For more than two years Bradley was suspected in Tucker's killing, but was not formally charged until testing done in November 2016 determined a patch of blood found in his vehicle was from Tucker.

A crime scene investigator who directly dealt with the blood was the basis for a continuance request from Bradley's lawyer. In the motion, defense attorney Rick Miller said he was recently made aware of an SBI investigation into Michele Mahamadou on allegations mishandling evidence. Miller also requested more time to have independent testing done of the sample taken from Bradley's vehicle.

A spokesperson for the SBI said the case was closed in early 2016, and no charges were filed. Mahamadou resigned from the WPD June 1.

On Monday, the judge denied the continuance request and jury selection began shortly afterward.

Prosecutors will be able to share evidence in the killings of Tucker and Ivy, along with two short stories Bradley wrote while in prison, a judge ruled following a pretrial hearing last year.

A trial date has not been set in the Tucker case. The state is seeking the death penalty for her murder.

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