COLUMBIA The life prison sentence for a Rock Hill man convicted of killing his daughter in 2001 was upheld Wednesday morning by the state Supreme Court capping a legal battle that involved multiple confessions and appeals.
The states high court ruled to uphold Billy Wayne Copes conviction in the rape and death of his daughter, Amanda Cope, 12, who was found dead in her bed with a blanket wrapped around her neck.
A subsequent investigation found the girl had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
Both Cope, 50, and a neighbor, James E. Sanders, 54, were convicted of her rape and murder in 2004. Both are serving life terms most recently, Cope in Bishopville and Sanders in Columbia, according to the S.C. Department of Corrections website.
Sanders, whose DNA was recovered from Amandas body, was tied to several break-ins involving assault against women within weeks of Amandas death in 2001 and early 2002. Sanders 2009 appeal to overturn his conviction was rejected.
The state Court of Appeals upheld Copes conviction in his first appeal after the conviction. In Copes latest appeal, which was escalated to the state Supreme Court, attorneys alleged that his confession to the crimes were false and coerced by police.
Were gratified by the decision of the Supreme Court, 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said. Weve always been confident of Mr. Copes guilt and the evidence against him, and we believe he received a fair trial.
Copes Rock Hill lawyers said they are pushing to move the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and said the states decision was disappointing. We plan on pursuing this case through the federal system, said James Morton of Morton & Gettys. We think they can look at it with a clear view.
Morton and his attorneys said Cope was misled by police into giving false confessions, and that the jury was unable to make an informed decision because key parts of Copes defense were deemed inadmissible.
When police arrived at Copes Rich Street home Nov. 29, 2001, officers found squalid living conditions that included strewn cat feces and a roach infestation.
Charges by prosecutors claiming Cope had also sexually abused his other two younger daughters were subsequently dismissed after he had been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Cope confessed to the crimes on three different occasions to investigators, with varying accounts. He placed the call to 911 several hours after he discovered his daughter was dead, according to court documents.
It was after investigators told Cope he had failed a polygraph test that he began to confess to the crimes, even agreeing to return to his home so police could videotape his confession while he purported to re-enact the crime.
Prosecutors alleged that both men conspired in Amands rape and murder.
Copes lawyers denied that he ever knew Sanders personally.
All four state Supreme Court justices concurred on the decision to uphold the conviction, with two partially dissenting and asking for a new trial because of errors in the judiciary process.
As part of their defense, Copes lawyers had hoped to present Sanders criminal history to the jury as evidence that Sanders had acted alone.
We acknowledge there is no direct evidence the two men agreed to commit this crime or that they even knew each other, the Supreme Court wrote. However, conspiracy can be proven by circumstantial evidence.
The courts decision goes on to state that there was ample circumstantial evidence for a jury to conclude the men conspired to commit the crimes.
Two justices diverged from the general consensus of the court when it came to the exclusion of evidence regarding Sanders criminal history where he broke into several homes in the weeks after the murder and assaulted or tried to assault female victims.
Had the jury known the complete story about the man whose semen and saliva was found on the body of Amanda Cope, there never would have been a guilty verdict against Cope, Morton said.
The U.S. Supreme Court hears less than 1 percent of all petitions filed annually. Copes legal team is also looking into any other legal remedies that remain on the state level.
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