Brackett: 'Dateline' special on Rock Hill murder had inaccuracies

jself@heraldonline.comJuly 17, 2010 

Note: See video from Brackette's press conference here.

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Solicitor Kevin Brackett, at a press conference Friday, accused a major television network program of inaccurately portraying a 2001 Rock Hill murder case.

Brackett - prosecutor for the 16th Circuit, which includes York and Union counties - also announced the launching of the website www.billywaynecope.com to refute the program's "inaccuracies."

On July 9, "Dateline NBC" aired a two-hour special called "The Mystery in Rock Hill" which revisited the case of Billy Wayne Cope, who was convicted in 2004 of two counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct, criminal conspiracy and unlawful conduct toward a child for the 2001 rape and murder of his daughter, Amanda Cope. He was sentenced to life plus 30 years, with no parole.

A second suspect, James Sanders, also was sentenced to life plus 30 years for the girl's rape and murder.

Brackett accused "Dateline" of portraying the Billy Wayne Cope murder case as "a blatant, slanted, one-sided hit piece" designed to make the judicial system in York County "look bad."

He accused "Dateline" of intentionally withholding information about the trial that would have undermined the story "Dateline" presented.

Brackett said there was "evidence they left on the cutting room floor."

He said that "Dateline" approached him for an interview during the trial, and he agreed to answer specific, written questions. "Dateline" refused to conduct the interview in that manner, Brackett said.

Brackett does not appear in the "Dateline" special.

The solicitor's website, which Brackett said is aimed at correcting errors, factual inaccuracies and misrepresentation, was launched Friday afternoon. It contains information presented during the trial, including transcripts, autopsy reports, videos, and witness and expert testimonies, Brackett said.

Jim Morton, Cope's attorney, criticized the website for excluding information, including a testimony by a witness Morton said was valuable to Cope's defense. He also said the website should have a way for readers to respond.

In response to Brackett's concerns, Morton said that Brackett had many opportunities to speak with "Dateline" before the special aired. He added that he does not believe "Dateline" was intentionally portraying the case in any way other than fairly and accurately.

Here are just a few concerns the "Dateline" special raised:

Were Cope's confessions reliable, and did police obtain them through fair means?

The "Dateline" special questioned whether the police investigation was conducted fairly, and whether police fixated on Cope as a suspect early on, pressuring him into confessing, and overlooking evidence that could have told a different story.

As "Dateline" reported, the defense tried to show that Cope's confessions were false through bringing in a false confession specialist.

Brackett said that the specialist, Saul Kassin, was unable to say how Cope's confession was false, a point "Dateline" omits, he claims.

"If this is a false confession case and he thinks it is one, he should be able to say why," Brackett said. "Show me the evidence."

But not all of Kassin's testimony was permitted in court, Brackett said. He wasn't allowed to discuss other cases where false confessions had been found because the prosecution would have to review each case first, which could be time consuming and still might not produce an accurate understanding of those cases, Brackett said.

As "Dateline" showed, Morton believed the omission was unfair.

"All we wanted the jury to know is that false confessions do occur, how and why they occur and to compare them to how they obtained a confession from Billy Cope," Morton said Friday.

According to Brackett, "Dateline" erred when it omitted his cross-examination of Kassin and of a polygraph expert who also questioned the truthfulness of Cope's confessions.

"Both were thoroughly discredited on the witness stand," Brackett said.

If jurors had known about the crimes Sanders was accused of in the months after Amanda Cope's murder, would their verdict have changed?

In the months after Amanda Cope's death, before he was arrested, Sanders was accused in other crimes involving break-ins, robberies and sexual assaults for which he was later tried.

Cope's defense wanted jurors to know about these crimes, arguing they were similar in nature.

But the judge, Brackett said, decided it was unlawful to allow mention of Sanders' other crimes in trial because they were not similar in nature to those committed against Cope's daughter.

What does it mean that only Sanders' DNA was found on the victim?

"Dateline" raises the question of how Cope could be found guilty when only Sanders' DNA was found on the victim.

It's a question Brackett believes the jury already decided with a conspiracy verdict.

But Morton hopes to revisit it soon, arguing that the prosecution never proved a connection between Sanders and Cope to explain the conspiracy.

Cope is in the process of appealing to the South Carolina Supreme Court for a hearing.

"It's just patently absurd that he let a complete stranger into his house," he said.

Jamie Self 803-329-4062

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