Testimony begins in murder trial

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Shavonne Potts

Salisbury Post

Testimony began Wednesday in the trial of John F. Rankin. He’s accused of killing his friend, Kevin Mark Ritchie, in his Kannapolis house.

The first day of the trial revealed details of how Ritchie lived. Those details disclosed occasional marijuana use and an alleged affair with a neighbor’s wife. Ritchie, 40, was found by his fiancee, Meloney McCorkle, dead in his house on Aug. 16, 2004, after she returned from work.

Ritchie, who was known to friends and family as Mark, had been stabbed numerous times.

In his opening statement, Rowan County District Attorney Bill Kenerly described to the jury Ritchie’s injuries.

There were multiple stab wounds, but the fatal one penetrated his chest and struck his aorta, an artery that passes over the heart.

There were also stab wounds on Ritchie’s shoulder area, several superficial stab marks to his back and a bruise on the side of his head. Kenerly said part of the blade broke off in Ritchie’s back and was retrieved by the medical examiner.

Ritchie was found tangled in an inversion machine, which he used for chronic back pain.

Several people testified Wednesday that Ritchie had 30 to 40 firearms locked in a gun safe and a rifle that he kept out for protection.

Witnesses said Ritchie was so careful with his firearms that he kept them in a gun safe behind a locked door in the kitchen. Three rifles were taken at the time he was killed.

When McCorkle went into the house, she used her key, but an interior door was unlocked. An unlocked door was something of a concern for her since Ritchie never left the door unlocked even if he was inside, McCorkle testified.

Thinking Ritchie was outside, she searched for him in the backyard. McCorkle said when she didn’t see him, she went further into the house.

“The lights were on, the TV was on and the house was quiet,” she said.

McCorkle went into the kitchen where she found her fiance lying in a pool of his own blood. Crying while testifying Wednesday, McCorkle said he was already cold to the touch by the time she found him.

She testified that she’d seen Ritchie earlier that day when he agreed to have breakfast with her at the Holiday Inn Express where she worked.

After breakfast, he worked out at a gym. McCorkle said the last time she saw her boyfriend of more than a year alive was at 9:30 a.m.

Several people testified that Ritchie wasn’t very trusting, almost to the point of paranoia. He locked his doors, didn’t trust banks and kept his money hidden at home. He also didn’t let many people inside his house.

McCorkle and Ritchie’s half-sister, Angela Morgan, confirmed that he always locked the front door even if he was home.

In 2004, investigators found no evidence of forced entry into Ritchie’s Elm Street house.

Two friends, Phillip “Gene” Long and Rondal Woodie, testified that Ritchie had a padlock on his front door and several locks on an interior door.

Ritchie’s friends knew little about Rankin, though the two hunted together. Ritchie also expresses an interest in buying a motorcycle from Rankin.

McCorkle said she went to Pineville with Ritchie to see the bike, but he decided not to buy it. She said the title for the bike looked suspicious, saying it didn’t have Rankin’s name on it. It also wasn’t notarized and appeared to belong to someone in Florida.

That was the only time she saw Rankin, McCorkle said.

Rankin’s attorneys, Marshall Bickett and James Randolph, mentioned Ritchie’s use of drugs. Carl Wilson Jr., a friend of Ritchie’s, said he knew of at least one occasion when Ritchie smoked marijuana.

Randolph asked McCorkle about a dispute between Ritchie and a neighbor concerning property lines. She said she knew there was arguing between the men.

There were also allegations of an affair between Ritchie and the same neighbor’s wife. Randolph asked McCorkle about investigators finding two used condoms in the house.

McCorkle said she knew nothing of the affair.

Bickett asked Det. David Miller, one of the Kannapolis Police officers who investigated the case, of someone bragging at a lounge or club about killing Ritchie for his guns.

No answer was given.

Miller said every lead was followed, every person who could be involved was interviewed and every bit of evidence was collected.

Ritchie’s sister and his fiancee said he kept meticulous records of the firearms and knives he collected. The records, which were shown in court, detailed how much he paid for the guns, where he got them and the date he purchased them.

Investigators did not find the gun list, but Ritchie’s sister found it in a custom-built closet.

Investigators notified pawn shops on Aug. 19 to alert them in case someone pawned the firearms. They received a call from Hal’s Pawn and Gun shop in Concord on Sept. 10.

Two weapons belonging to Ritchie were pawned at the shop. A license was shown during the transaction from Timothy Allison.

Allison told pawn shop co-owner, Hal Allman Jr., that he’d received the gun from his father. He sold the gun Aug. 20 and returned three days later to sell another rifle.

According to police statements, Allison said he’d gotten the guns from his sister’s child’s father, James Rankin.

James Rankin is the cousin of John Rankin.

Investigators found no firearms on John Rankin or in his house. There was also no DNA evidence that showed John Rankin had ever been to Ritchie’s house.

A former girlfriend of John Rankin’s, Lori Kiker-Beach, testified that Rankin borrowed her car the day of the murder.

His son, Cedric Hawkins, returned the car to her . Beach said the only thing she found odd was a newspaper ripped and scattered over the back seat. Hawkins took the car back later in the day.

Beach said it wasn’t unusual for Rankin to borrow her car. He often did so to go to job interviews, visit friends and go on “runs,” she said.

The trial resumes at 9:30 this morning.

Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 or spotts@salisburypost.com.