Trials

Ex-Virginia police officer convicted of manslaughter in fatal shooting

In an undated image from video, former Portsmouth, Va. police officer Stephen Rankin sits in court in Portsmouth, Va.

In an undated image from video, former Portsmouth, Va. police officer Stephen Rankin sits in court in Portsmouth, Va.  (WVEC TV via AP, Pool)

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.

A jury recommended that Stephen Rankin, 36, serve 2½ years in prison. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum sentence of 10 years, while defense attorney James Broccoletti argued for no jail time.

A judge will formally sentence Rankin on Oct. 12. Under Virginia law, the judge doesn't have to follow the jury's recommendation, but can't increase the penalty.

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.

"He brought a gun into what is at worst a fist fight," prosecutor Stephanie Morales told the jury.

But the defense said Rankin had to shoot after a stun gun failed to stop the teenager.

"Everything he tried to do didn't work," Broccoletti said.

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 testified that 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. 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 6 feet away. He said he 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," Rankin said. "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 Chapman to police, 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 at him from about 5 yards away.

Rankin had been cleared of wrongdoing in his first on-duty killing. He said he fired 11 times at that burglary suspect because the white man charged at him while reaching into his waistband with his hands.

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.