Ap­pel­late court up­holds 2013 mur­der con­vic­tions

Cecil Whig - - RELIGION - By CARL HAMIL­TON

ca­hamil­ton@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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

ELK­TON

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.

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