Former Portsmouth officer Stephen Rankin appeals conviction in shooting death of teen

Former Portsmouth police officer Stephen Rankin (Photo: Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail)

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Attorneys for former Portsmouth police officer Stephen Rankin argued to get his conviction in the death of a teenager overturned Tuesday.

“I appreciate the court’s consideration. They spent a lot of time asking questions,” said defense attorney James Broccoletti.

FULL COVERAGE: Stephen Rankin Trial

Rankin, who was initially charged with first-degree murder, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. The former Portsmouth police officer shot William Chapman II outside of a Walmart in April 2015.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales cross-examines former officer Stephen Rankin a picture taken of him from the scene in 2015. Credit: WAVY-TV 10.

His defense has argued that a judge made two errors during the August 2016 trial, which they believe affected the outcome. Rankin’s attorneys are seeking a new trial, while prosecutors want the former officer to stay locked up.

Representing the Commonwealth, Senior Assistant Attorney General Virginia Theisen argued the latter side on Tuesday in the Norfolk Court of Appeals. Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales was the original prosecutor in the case.

Rankin’s attorneys claim Judge Johnny Morrison made an error when he denied them from using an expert witness.

During Tuesday’s hearing one judge pointed out that the point of an expert is to assist the jury and not confuse them.

Broccoletti told the judges the trial court misapplied a legal standard of what an expert is.
“In her cross-examination she tried to challenge the credibility of Mr. Rankin. Show that he’s a hot head who just did what he wanted to do and acted in ways that weren’t appropriate. The expert I think would have counterbalanced that and presented a different side to the jury,” Broccoletti said to reporters after the hearing.
The defense also said Morrison should have ordered a mistrial when a Chapman family friend struck up a conversation with a juror who ended up ruling against Rankin.
Broccoletti argued that the actions of one juror indicated support for the family because of an interaction caught on camera inside the courthouse.
“She doesn’t have to come out and say to the juror hey throw this case find him guilty her presence with the family throughout the entire trial and then her approaching him to say hey you know me, I know them, you’re with me that’s a statement. That’s an assertion and that was the point of the argument,” Broccoletti said.
Theisen told the judges the trial judge did investigate the juror and the defense had many opportunities during the trial to address concerns with the judge.
A point to which the prosecutor on the case agrees.
“I hope the court of appeals will affirm the trial court’s decisions. I feel that the court worked very hard to make sure that all parties had a fair trial. That’s obviously why we had so many hearings leading up to the trial itself because the court wanted all parties to be able to focus on the matter at hand.” said Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales.
“I feel that it was money wasted,” said William Chapman’s uncle, Earl Lewis.
Lewis does not support the idea of the former police officer getting out of prison early.
“Rankin needs to serve the rest of his time,” Lewis said.
However Dawn Rankin, the former officer’s wife is hopeful Tuesday’s hearing will change the trial court’s decision.
“It’s a long process and you just take one day at a time and you move forward and do the best you can,” she said.
It will be at least two months before we learn the court of appeals’ decision.
A judge last week denied the former officer bond pending the appeals process. Rankin’s prison sentence ends in November.