A former Portsmouth, Va. police officer was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter Thursday in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man accused of shoplifting at a Wal-Mart.
Stephen Rankin, 36, faces up to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors in had sought a conviction for first-degree murder.
Rankin shot William Chapman II, 18, in the face and chest on April 22 of last year after a security guard accused the teen of shoplifting. Prosecutors said the officer, who is white, could have used non-deadly force, noting that every witness but Rankin testified Chapman, who was black, had his hands up.
But the defense said Rankin had to shoot after a stun gun failed to stop the teenager.
The jurors — eight black and four white — began deliberating on Tuesday in the mostly black city of 100,000.
Many in Portsmouth saw the trial as a chance for accountability amid continuing reports about police-involved shootings. Rankin, who was fired after his murder indictment, had already killed another unarmed suspect, four years earlier. But his lawyers said this case had nothing to do with deadly uses of force against other black men.
Rankin said he calmly approached Chapman to discuss the shoplifting accusation and was preparing to handcuff him when the teen refused to comply with his orders and a struggle ensued.
He said he used his stun gun on him, but Chapman knocked it away and both men then faced each other from a short distance.
That’s when he drew his pistol, Rankin said, and repeatedly commanded Chapman to “get on the ground.” Instead, he said Chapman screamed “shoot me” several times before charging at him from about six feet away. He said experienced “tunnel vision” at that point, and fearing for his life, fired twice to stop him.
“I had no reason to think he was going to stop attacking me,” said Rankin. “I was scared.”
Some witnesses backed Rankin’s recollection. Paul Akey, a construction worker who was nearby, said Chapman “went after the officer with throwing fists, and it looked like he knocked a Taser out of the officer’s hands.”
But Gregory Provo, the Wal-Mart security guard who reported the shoplifting allegation, testified that Chapman never charged at the officer. He said Chapman raised both hands, boxing-style, and said “Are you going to f—ing shoot me?” before Rankin fired from about five yards away.
Prosecutor Stephanie Morales argued that Rankin chose to shoot when he could have used non-lethal force.
“He brought a gun into what is at worst a fist fight,” she told the jury.
But defense attorney James Broccoletti said shooting was his only choice after “everything he tried to do didn’t work.”
Prosecutors failed to persuade the judge to allow Rankin’s ex-wife to testify that he had fantasized about shooting people on the job.
In his first on-duty killing, he was cleared of wrongdoing after firing 11 times at a white burglary suspect. He said that man charged at him while reaching into his waistband with his hands.
The judge also refused to allow testimony about Chapman’s own criminal record.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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