Trial takes an unusual twist

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Shavonne Potts

Salisbury Post

In an unusual move, visiting Superior Court Judge Michael Beale issued a bench warrant Wednesday for the arrest of a man whose father is already being tried for murder.

Before jurors arrived for court Wednesday, Beale said Cedric Hawkins, 22, was being arrested for the murder and robbery of Kevin Mark Ritchie.

Hawkins’ father, John F. Rankin, 42, is already on trial for the murder.

Beale’s action is the latest in a trial that has already taken a number of unusual twists.

On Monday, Hawkins was found in contempt of court when he refused to testify against his father. Hawkins asserted his right to the Fifth Amendment despite the fact that, at the time, he wasn’t charged with any criminal offense.

Hawkins was taken immediately into custody and appeared in court Wednesday dressed in an orange Rowan County Detention Center jumpsuit and shackles.

The charges of murder and robbery that were filed Wednesday are the same that were dropped in 2005 when Hawkins agreed to testify and was given immunity, or exemption from prosecution.

A bench warrant can be issued for the arrest of a subpoenaed person who has ignored a previous judicial order. A bench warrant is typically issued for a defendant who fails to appear for court.

Beale said he’s listened to testimony and feels “There’s more than one person involved in this crime.”

He also mentioned the location of Ritchie’s stab wounds, which appeared to be created from both the front and back. There is also a possibility that the stab wounds were made with two different sharp objects, Beale noted. No such weapons have been found.

Ritchie, 41, was discovered in his Kannapolis house on Aug. 16, 2004, with numerous stab wounds. The fatal wound pierced his aorta, an artery that passes over an individual’s heart.

His fiancee, Meloney McCorkle found Ritchie when she went to his 911 Elm St. house. Three rifles were stolen. Family and friends testified he had a large collection of guns.

Rankin stood Wednesday to say he did not wish to testify nor would there be any evidence provided in his case.

Once jurors returned, they heard closing arguments from Rowan County District Attorney Bill Kenerly, as well as Rankin’s attorneys — James Randolph and Marshall Bickett. Randolph told jurors there was no evidence to connect his client to Ritchie’s house.

“No hair, no fingerprints, no gloves, no DNA were found, no confession and he was never seen in Kannapolis around or on the date,” Randolph said.

He said Ritchie and Rankin were good friends in high school, both graduating from South Rowan. “They never had a dispute or a falling out,” Randolph said.

He called attention to who he said was the only connection in the case — Timothy Allison and James “Junior” Rankin Jr.

Junior Rankin is John Rankin’s cousin. Randolph said Allison wanted guns for protection and Junior Rankin told him he’d get some.

He also pointed to Junior Rankin’s character, saying he was in and out of jail numerous times, he didn’t try to obtain a job upon his release, he missed visits with his probation officer. He even tried to change his appointment with his probation officer the day of the murder, Randolph said.

He reminded jurors the guns weren’t found in John Rankin’s possession. There was evidence and police statements that both Allison and Junior Rankin had possession of the stolen rifles and pawned two of them.

The third rifle was seized from the back of Allison’s car.

Randolph said Junior Rankin was “high and drunk all of the time.”

Junior Rankin said he smoked marijuana with his cousin several days before the murder, the day of the murder and the days that followed.

Randolph said there were discrepancies between Allison and Junior Rankin’s testimony about where they met to get the guns. Allison said it was a gas station and Junior Rankin said a Bojangles restaurant.

Bickett reiterated inconsistencies in Junior Rankin’s testimony. He also pointed out that Junior Rankin had access to a cell phone John Rankin owned. The cell phone was purchased by his girlfriend, Lori Kiker-Beach.

“Most of the calls were made to Junior’s friends, to Timmy Allison, to his probation officer, to Erin Allison,” Bickett said. “The only thing that puts John Rankin with the guns is Junior.”

Bickett also said during the month of Ritchie’s death it was hot and his air conditioner didn’t work. He said Ritchie might have opened his doors and windows to cool off. Bickett suggested that on the day of the murder, Ritchie’s house wasn’t a “fortress” as his friends testified.

Friends said in court Ritchie was cautious about letting strangers into his house.

“It doesn’t seem that John Rankin was a close enough friend to get into the house,” Bickett said.

Kenerly told the jury that Ritchie was murdered in his kitchen by a friend. “To believe Junior did it you would have to believe Mark Ritchie let a stranger in,” he said.

Kenerly said the only connection to Junior and Ritchie was his cousin, John Rankin.

He said Junior Rankin stand about 5-feet and Allison is about 5-foot-4 and weighs 130 pounds.

“Are you suggesting two guys who are half the size of Mark Ritchie managed to take him down by surprise?” Kenerly asked.

Kenerly said that Ritchie was stabbed in the chest. He was knocked down with the blow and fell, hitting his head.

According to the medical examiner’s report, Ritchie had a bruise on the side of his head.

“This person or persons stabbed him in the back to make sure he was dead,” Kenerly said.

He pointed to John Rankin, telling the jury they’ve been looking at him all week. Kenerly said it was easy to see that John Rankin was bigger than Allison and Junior Rankin.

“You’ve got to be his friend. You’ve got to surprise him and you’ve got to be bigger than Mark Ritchie,” Kenerly said.

He reminded jurors of the medical examiner’s report that Ritchie had one defensive wound on the palm of his hand.

Kenerly went over with jurors the items they should consider when determining if Ritchie’s murder was premeditated. He told jurors that premeditation didn’t just mean the person sat down a week before to map out a plan to kill.

The amount of time needed for premeditation depends on the person and the circumstances. It must be long enough, after forming the intent to act, for the person to have been fully conscious of the intent and to have considered the act.

Jurors will receive instructions from Judge Beale today. After instructions, jurors will deliberate on whether John Rankin is guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and robbery, or find him not guilty.

The trial is expected to end today.

Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 or & lt;i/ & gt;