PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A jury convicted a white former police officer of voluntary manslaughter on Thursday in the shooting death of an unarmed black man who had been accused of shoplifting.

Stephen Rankin shot William Chapman in the face and chest outside a Wal-Mart store last year after a security guard called police to go after the 18-year-old.

No video recorded the actual killing, and testimony conflicted on the details. But most witnesses said Chapman had his hands up, and prosecutor Stephanie Morales said the officer could have used nondeadly force.

The officer “brought a gun into what is at worst a fist fight,” Morales told the jury, which deliberated for nearly two days before returning its verdict.

Rankin, 36, now faces one to 10 years in prison. The sentencing phase of his trial began immediately. Morales asked jurors to “give him the 10 years that he deserves.” Defense attorney James Broccolletti argued that incarceration would serve no purpose, and urged the jury to give him no jail time at all.

Rankin, who was fired from the Portsmouth police force after being indicted, had already killed another unarmed suspect, four years earlier, and many in the mostly black city of 100,000 saw his trial as a chance for accountability as police shootings continue around the country.


But his lawyers said this case had nothing to do with deadly uses of force against other black men. “I think this is a terrible tragedy I wish it had never happened. I wish none of it had ever occurred,” Rankin testified after being found guilty.

“I can’t begin to fathom how much pain that family is going through. I wish I could have done more to keep him alive,” he added.

Chapman’s second cousin, Earl Lewis, also took the stand, to discuss the impact of his death, speaking through tears about the family’s struggle to find money to bury him.

The jurors – eight black and four white – did not convict on the first-degree murder charge prosecutors sought

Experts say on-duty officers kill about 1,000 suspects a year in the United States, but only 74 have been charged since 2005. A third of these were convicted, a third were not and the other cases are pending.

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