Murder conviction against James Bradley upheld in killing of Elisha Tucker

Murder conviction against James Bradley upheld in killing of Elisha Tucker
Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 12:03 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A man who has been convicted of murder three separate times has had his latest appeal denied.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals has upheld the 2019 conviction of James Bradley for first degree murder in the death of Elisha Tucker. This means he will in all likelihood spend the rest of his life in prison.

Tucker was reported missing by her family on Oct. 21, 2013, though it had been months since they had heard from her.

She remained missing until April 29, 2014, when investigators who were searching for Shannon Rippy Van Newkirk found human remains on a plot of land she and Bradley frequented for their landscaping jobs. The remains initially were believed to be Van Newkirk but were later identified as Tucker.

Though Bradley immediately was named a suspect in Tucker’s killing, he wasn’t formally charged until late 2016 when investigators obtained physical evidence linking the pair.

He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In his appeal, Bradley listed the following reasons for a new trial:

  • the admission of evidence concerning Rippy’s disappearance
  • allegedly improper closing arguments by the State
  • the denial of his motion to dismiss the first-degree murder charge for insufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation

But the appeals court ruled against him on all three counts.

In response to his contention that the trial court erred in admitting substantial evidence from the Rippy case in the Tucker trial, the appeals court ruled that an objection against the admission of evidence must be made at the time it is introduced at trial.

“Here, Defendant conceded prior to trial that some evidence of Ms. Rippy’s disappearance was admissible under Rule 404(b) to show how police came to discover Ms. Tucker’s body,” the ruling states. “Several witnesses testified at trial about Ms. Rippy without any objection by Defendant under Rules 404(b) and 403. Defendant first objected based on Rule 404(b) during Det. Lamberty’s testimony — well after other witnesses, including Ms. Rippy’s mother and other police officers, had testified on the same subjects and to substantially identical facts.

“Because Defendant did not lodge a timely objection to the evidence of Ms. Rippy’s disappearance that he now challenges on appeal, he has failed to preserve his Rule 404(b) and 403 arguments for prejudicial error review.”

Moreover, the court found the evidence regarding Rippy was appropriate to put before the jury in Tucker’s case, because the search for Rippy was directly connected to how they found Tucker.

“Simply telling the jury that detectives were searching for a missing person... would not offer an adequate picture of Defendant’s connection to that missing person. The evidence was necessary to establish the weight and probative value of the State’s other evidence,” the Court of Appeals said in it’s written opinion.

“It was a really significant [ruling] because the Court of Appeals published it, meaning it’s going to be president setting and it’s going to be relied upon throughout the state and even this country,” District Attorney Ben David said of the Appeals Court decision. “It’s going to allow us to utilize with greater frequency something called other crimes evidence or 404b evidence. The idea that we can use for instance, the disappearance of an Shannon Rippy in the murder trial of Elisha Tucker, that was a really big legal issue and the court resolved that in our favor.”

This is not the first time a murder conviction against Bradley has been upheld by the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

In 2018, the court ruled that Bradley received a fair trial when he was convicted of second-degree murder in 2017 the disappearance of Rippy. He was sentenced to 30 to 37.5 years in prison in that case. Rippy’s body has never been found.

Bradley also was convicted of murder in the 1988 killing of his 8-year-old stepdaughter, Ivy Gibson, in Fayetteville. He spent 25 years in prison before being released in early 2013.

The full ruling upholding Bradley’s murder conviction in the Tucker case can be seen below:

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