Testimony began Feb. 22 in the Delaware Superior Court trial of a Philadelphia man accused of being the triggerman in the January 2014 deaths of two men in Millsboro. Police later linked the murders to a large organized crime ring operating in Kent and Sussex counties.
Rhamir Waples, 20, is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Cletis Nelson and William Hopkins at a mobile home on Harmons Hill Road in Millsboro. Prosecutors say Waples was one of the triggermen in the murders, and that he was part of a gang led by another murder defendant, Steven Kellam of Dover. Prosecutors said the gang recruited people from out of state to rob drug houses; in January 2014, the gang received a tip from Rachel Rentoul that drugs and cash were to be found at Nelson’s home.
According to the forensic examiner who conducted autopsies on the two victims, Nelson was shot eight times, six times in the back and twice in the head. Dr. Edward McDonough testified the shots to Nelson’s back entered his right side; Nelson was hit in his liver, kidney, stomach and pancreas before the shots exited his chest. One of the head shots went through his brain. McDonough said on its own, it would have been immediately fatal.
McDonough said Hopkins was shot 12 times, with most of the shots on his left side where one shot hit his heart and aorta. Three shots were to Hopkins’ head, two of which would have alone been fatal, McDonough said. All told, McDonough testified he found 20 gunshot wounds on Hopkins’ body.
The first witness to testify at the jury trial, before Judge T. Henley Graves, was Cletis Nelson’s brother Terrence, who gave his testimony while standing, citing a back injury that would not allow him to sit. Terrence testified that at the time of the murders, Cletis had recently been released from prison, but had gone back into the drug game, selling crack cocaine. Terrence testified he did not know his brother was selling heroin, which Delaware State Police later discovered on the premises. Terrence testified Hopkins was a friend of Nelson’s roommate.
Terrence said he had not heard from his brother the day of the murder, which was unusual because they generally talked every day. He said he went to his brother’s home and noticed a window screen popped out; when he went to the front of the house, he looked through a window in the door and saw his brother lying on the floor. He testified that when he opened the door, he saw Hopkins on the couch. Terrence said he could quickly tell both were dead.
He said he debated whether to seek revenge or call police. After talking with his mother and another brother, he decided to call police, and prosecutor Martin Cosgrove played the 911 call Terrence Nelson made to police.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Tom Pedersen, Terrence said he did not know the details of his brother’s daily life when it came to drug dealing.
Cosgrove and fellow prosecutor Chris Hutchison also called three of the first Delaware State Police officers who arrived on the scene, who all testified to securing the home to ensure no one else was there, and then finding the bodies of Nelson and Hopkins.
Sgt. Keith Marvel of the Delaware State Police evidence detection unit testified he first searched the area around the house, where he found a McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets box and a Samsung Galaxy cellphone box, both hidden outside and both containing bundles of heroin. He said the phone box held 442 bags of heroin, while the McDonald’s box had 208 bags. Inside the house, Marvel said, he saw automatic cartridge casings on the floor for .40-caliber and .32-caliber weapons, a type of ammunition fired from semi-automatic pistols. He said bullet holes were found in an area rug and floorboards where Nelson’s body was found. Marvel testified fingerprints were taken off the window screen found on the ground, the cartridge casings and from the two boxes of heroin found outside the house, with no matches found. He said other prints around the house were useful, but, on cross-examination by Pedersen, he admitted that none were linked to Waples. Marvel said no cash was recovered at the house.
The baby-faced Waples, clad in a plaid shirt and khakis, sat quietly and attentively during the testimony, showing no visible reaction.
Waples was arrested in June 2015 as part of Delaware State Police Operation In The House, which led to a 36-person crime ring linked to robberies and home invasions. Waples is one of six defendants originally facing first-degree murder and home invasion charges in connection with the murders of Hopkins and Nelson. Two of those defendants, Richard Robinson and Shamir Stratton, have pleaded guilty to lesser charges and have agreed to testify against Kellam, Waples, Damon Bethea and Carlton Gibbs. Unlike Kellam, Bethea and Gibbs, Waples will face two separate trials, the first on the murder charges and the second on home invasion charges.