Black frequented shooting range
HUNTINGTON — Rodney Black, the double-homicide suspect neighbors describe as reclusive, is a gun enthusiast who frequently visited a secluded shooting range in the Beech Fork Wildlife Management Area near Lavalette, according to authorities interviewed Wednesday.
Cabell County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Doug Ferguson said investigators believe Black frequently visited the range to shoot firearms and collect empty shell casings left behind by other shooters. Collecting empty casings would be indicative of someone who reloaded his own ammunition, a cost-savings activity for some enthusiasts. That also would be consistent with three reloading presses confiscated from Black's residence.
The 62-year-old stands charged with two counts of first-degree murder in connection with Saturday's shooting of new neighbor Garrick Hopkins, 60, and his brother Carl Hopkins Jr., 61. It occurred about 2:30 p.m. as the brothers toured an L-shaped, near-acre tract of land that Garrick Hopkins and his wife purchased 10 days earlier.
Court documents allege Black spotted two men shaking the door of a nearby shed, grabbed his .243-caliber rifle and fired the fatal gunshots without warning from a bedroom window. The rifle was one of 54 firearms confiscated from Black's residence, according to a property receipt filed in Cabell County Magistrate Court.
The shed sat approximately 120 feet from Black's residence on adjacent property once owned by his late parents, but sold by his sister Jan. 15 for $50,000 as part of settling their mother's estate.
Wayne County Prosecutor Tom Plymale also confirmed Black's visits to the Beech Fork shooting range. He said the suspect was listed as a potential trial witness in the June 19, 2008, killing of the Rev. Mark McCalla, 48. McCalla, then pastor of Huntington's Highlawn Presbyterian Church, died at the hands of two U.S. Army deserters.
Black, who didn't testify at either trial in 2009, told investigators he had spotted two men matching the deserters' description shooting T-shirt draped targets at the range several days prior to McCalla's death, Plymale said. Plymale said he didn't recall why Black was not called to testify.
The weapons seized from Black's house consisted of 37 long guns and 17 handguns. Included were a wide variety of shotguns, rifles and muzzleloaders, such as a Remington 12-gauge double-barrel shotgun, a Russian M91 and a Colt AR-15, the property receipt states.
Ferguson said the number of firearms and accessories may seem excessive to the average person, but would be consistent with firearm enthusiasts and collectors. It is unknown how Black came into possession of so many guns, and Ferguson said any such determination would require a trace of each gun through the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"I don't know how relevant that would be to this particular case," he said.
Ferguson further described Black as "a bit of a recluse," saying he had very little contact with his neighbors. He was unsure as to Black's employment history and said he maintained contact with some family members, although he was unhappy with the prospective sale of any of his late parents' adjoining property.
The property, consisting of three tracts of land, was left to Black's mother, Juanita, upon her husband's death in 2008. Her last will and testament further split the property in July 2010, with Rodney Black receiving the residence while his sister Judy Ranson administered the estate and its remaining tracts of land.
Ranson said Monday she thought her brother considered the residence and its adjoining tracts of land to be his, despite it having been on the market for more than three years and the necessity to use the proceeds of a sale to cover their mother's medical bills.
Garrick Hopkins' wife, Denise, said they planned to move a modular home onto the property by early spring. It represented their first venture into home ownership, a milestone about which both were excited and Garrick was eager to share with his older brother on the trip that ended with their deaths.
Ferguson, who routinely teaches concealed-carry classes, said deadly force in that instant was unjustified regardless of who owned the land.
"Obviously, a person has the right to protect their property, but the use of deadly force requires you be in fear for your life or serious bodily injury from that of another person," he said. "All indications from our investigation, that was never an issue prior to those gentlemen being shot."
The Hopkins brothers will be remembered during a joint funeral service at 1 p.m. Friday at Spirit & Truth Ministries, located at 100 Main St. in Oak Hill, W.Va., near their hometown in Fayetteville, W.Va. Visitation will take place two hours prior to the service. Burial will follow in Blue Ridge Memorial Gardens in Prosperity, W.Va., according to Ritchie & Johnson Funeral Parlor in Beckley, W.Va.
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