NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - An emotionless James Bradley sat in court Thursday with his eyes locked on whoever was speaking during the first day of his murder trial.
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 downtown.
When questioned by detectives following Van Newkirk's disappearance, Bradley admitted to seeing her the day she disappeared but has continually denied involvement in her disappearance or death. Her body has never been found.
While searching for Van Newkirk on land in Pender County where Bradley worked, investigators found the body of another missing Wilmington woman, Elisha Tucker. Bradley is also charged with murder in her death, but a trial date has not been set in the case.
"We are convinced that at the end of this case when we ask you to return a verdict of guilty against the defendant for the murder of Shannon Rippy that you are going to find him guilty," Assistant District Attorney Barret Temple said, addressing the jury. "Shannon Rippy Van Newkirk met the same fate as Elisha Tucker's."
Steven Mott, Bradley and Van Newkirk's boss and owner of the Pender County land, took the stand Thursday afternoon. Mott said that Bradley had a "bad temper" and would have to separate the two at work. Mott added he was not aware that Van Newkirk spent time with Bradley outside of work and "didn't expect" her to tell him anyways.
In 1988, Bradley was convicted in the killing of his 8-year-old stepdaughter in Fayetteville. He spent 25 years in prison before being released in early 2013.
Following a pretrial hearing last year, a judge ruled jurors in the Van Newkirk trial could hear evidence from the killings of Tucker and Bradley's stepdaughter, along with two short stories Bradley wrote while in prison.
Jury selection began Monday in Pender County. The jury was finalized Wednesday afternoon. Opening statements and the remainder of the trial, expected to last several weeks, will take place in New Hanover County.
Van Newkirk's family members were present in the courtroom on day one, including Shannon's brother, Shawn.
Shannon's mother, Roberta Lewis, was called as the first witness in the trial after the defense declined to offer an opening statement. When asked if she still believes her daughter is alive, Lewis said she can't after all the information she has learned.
"I just want to bring her home," an emotional Lewis said at the end of the prosecutor's questioning.
Lewis last spoke to her daughter on the phone just before 7 p.m. on the Saturday before she went missing. Sunday, she left birthday presents at Shannon's home and called police when they went untouched.
Reporter Connor DelPrete will be covering the trial. You can follow him on Twitter for live updates from the courtroom, and he will update this story throughout the day.