Attorneys will try again to preserve ex-Portsmouth Officer Stephen Rankin’s manslaughter appeal

By Scott Daugherty, The Virginian-Pilot – 9/18/2017


Defense attorneys will try again today to get the state’s Court of Appeals to overturn the conviction of a former police officer who was found guilty last year on one count of voluntary manslaughter.

But before they can argue the merits of Stephen Rankin’s appeal, they must convince a panel of three appellate judges to take up the case.

A single appellate judge denied Rankin’s appeal in June, but his attorneys requested a three-judge panel – prompting today’s hearing in Chesapeake.

“At this stage, an appellant like Officer Rankin is just trying to keep his appeal alive,” said L. Steven Emmert, an appellate lawyer based in Virginia Beach who publishes Virginia Appellate News and Analysis.

He noted that most people never get past this point in the process. He said the court rejects over 88 percent of the petitions it receives.

Rankin, 37, was sentenced in October to 2½ years in prison for the April 22, 2015, shooting death of 18-year-old William Chapman II.

According to court testimony, Rankin was investigating a shoplifting report that morning when he approached Chapman outside the Walmart on Frederick Boulevard. An altercation ensued in the parking lot, during which Rankin tried to use his Taser only to lose it. Some witnesses across the street said Chapman had charged Rankin, but another one nearby said Chapman had merely jerked his shoulders forward.

After the shooting, Rankin told a Walmart security guard who had seen what happened that it was his “second one.” It was a reference to the fact that he also shot and killed 26-year-oldKirill Denyakin in 2011while responding to a burglary call in Olde Towne.

No charges were filed in the Denyakin shooting, and Rankin won a related civil trial.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales secured an indictment in Chapman’s death in September 2015, charging Rankin with first-degree murder. A jury convicted him of voluntary manslaughter.

Defense attorneys James Broccoletti and Nicole Belote appealed on several grounds, including that Circuit Judge Johnny Morrison shouldn’t have allowed the jury to hear Rankin’s “second one” comment or barred a professor from testifying on police use of force. And they said he should have declared a mistrial when it was determined that a friend of the Chapman family had spoken with a juror before the sixth day of trial.

The defense lawyers also argued that Morrison was wrong to prevent them from telling the jury about Chapman’s criminal record and writings in his backpack that they alleged showed he was “deeply disturbed” and “obsessed with death and violence.”

In each instance, an appellate judge found in June, Morrison was within his rights to rule as he did.

Emmert said Tuesday’s hearing will involve only Rankin’s defense team – not the government.