Appellate court upholds 2013 murder convictions
— The state’s second highest appellate court has upheld the first-degree murder convictions and 45year prison term imposed on a North East-area man who directly ordered the execution-style shooting of a rival near Port Deposit in October 2013, according to an Maryland Court of Special Appeals opinion.
In January 2015, three months after pleading guilty to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit firstdegree murder, Jonathan Blair Copeland, now 26, received a life sentence, with all but 45 years suspended, and a mirroring, concurrent penalty for the murder conspiracy conviction. Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Jane Cairns Murray imposed the sentences.
The statement of facts attached to his plea deal identifies Copeland as the person who, standing a few feet away from the triggerman, ordered the hit on the 33-year-old victim, Jeffrey Adam Myers — a drug addict whom Copeland believed had stolen thousands of dollars in heroin and cash in a burglary days earlier.
Myers was gunned down at about 4:50 p.m. Oct. 23, 2013, at the end of a long driveway leading to Myers’ Port Deposit-area home in the 1500 block of Principio Road. Copeland and his accomplice, John Wallace Green, now 30, confronted Myers while he was behind the wheel of his Ford F-150 pickup truck.
Copeland uttered, “Bust him,” prompting Green to open fire on Myers, who was pronounced dead at the scene, according to court records. A passing motorist
witnessed the slaying, contacted authorities and later identified the two suspects, not only for the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office but also for jurors during Green’s murder trial.
Convicted of first-degree murder and related offenses in December 2014, Green is serving a 130-year prison term. Murray was the sentencing judge for Green too.
Copeland filed an appeal following his plea hearing and sentencing, maintaining that prosecutors failed to grant him a speedy trial. Under state law, a criminal defendant must be brought to trial within 180 days of his or his defense lawyer’s first pre-trial court appearance, such as an arraignment. A defendant can waive his right to a speedy trial and a judge can grant a postponement — for good cause — that would cause a trial to be held beyond the 180 days.
Specifically, he contended that prosecutors failed to expediently alert his assistant public defender, Thomas Klenk, of a conflict of interest, which forced Klenk to back out of the case.
A new defense lawyer entered his appearance on behalf of Copeland, replacing Klenk. Because he needed time to prepare after entering his appearance so close to the scheduled trial date, however, the new defense lawyer asked for — and was granted — a postponement.
Copeland maintains that a postponement could have been avoided if prosecutors had disclosed the possible conflict of interest for Klenk sooner.
But Deputy State’s Attorney Steven L. Trostle, who prosecuted both Copeland and Green along with Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Burnell, countered that the state did not know a conflict of interest existed until Klenk realized it.
A Cecil County Detention Center inmate sharing a cell with Copeland, a pre-trial inmate, had contacted prosecutors and informed them that Copeland had confessed to him. That inmate told prosecutors that Copeland stated that he “instructed Green to ‘ bust a man over seven logs of heroin,’” court records show.
“The jailhouse confession was the ‘cherry on top’ of the State’s already strong case against (Copeland),” according to background information contained in the appellate opinion.
During the initial discovery in February 2014, prosecutors identified 21 potential witnesses to Klenk and Copeland and “disclosed the existence of a ‘ confidential source,’” without identifying that source — the inmate who had heard Copeland’s confession, court records show. Burnell and Trostle did not reveal his name at that time “due to concerns about his safety,” according to court records.
The state released the name of that confidential source to the defense on March 11, 2014 — and that’s when Klenk learned that he had previously represented that confidential source, who had been Klenk’s client in Cecil County Adult Drug Court.
Recognizing that former client-attorney relationship as a conflict of interest for him, Klenk scratched his appearance, court records show. He was replaced by a new defense lawyer for Copeland and that resulted in the good-cause postponement for the defense.