The U.S. Supreme Court will decide in the coming days whether to hear the appeal for a new trial from Billy Wayne Cope, the Rock Hill father convicted a decade ago of raping and killing his 12-year-old daughter in 2001.
But the chance is a longshot – the Supreme Court hears only about 1 percent of all cases that are sent to it for a chance at reversal.
The case has been controversial since soon after Amanda Cope was killed because Cope confessed three times, but DNA found on her body matched another man, James Edwards Sanders. Police and prosecutors say Cope and Sanders acted together in the crimes, while Cope’s lawyers say Sanders committed the rape and killing and that Cope’s confessions were false and coerced by police.
Cope, 50, remains in prison, serving a life sentence on convictions of murder, rape and conspiracy. Sanders also was sentenced to life for the same convictions.
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Last year, the S.C. Supreme Court rejected on a split 3-2 vote Cope’s request for a new trial.
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide, likely within the next two weeks, if it will hear oral arguments concerning Cope’s claims that he did not receive a fair trial because jurors were not allowed to hear about Sanders’ other criminal acts. More, Cope’s lawyers claim that jurors should have been able to hear testimony from a jailhouse informant who allegedly overheard Sanders bragging about the crime.
Willy Thompson, the 16th Circuit deputy solicitor, one of the prosecutors who convicted Cope, said Thursday that Cope had a fair trial and there is “no question” he is guilty of both sexually assaulting and killing his daughter.
“Mr. Cope was convicted of the crime – a crime he confessed to three times,” Thompson said.
Cope also was charged with sexually assaulting his two younger daughters, but those charges were dismissed with the right to restore after his conviction. Cope, who at the time of the crime had a previous conviction for child neglect involving his three daughters, testified at his 2004 trial and denied the crimes and even knowing Sanders. Cope also testified that he confessed as a ruse to try to get police and prosecutors to think he was mentally incompetent.
At the time of Amanda’s death, police again found Cope’s home infested with vermin, with containers of garbage and human waste scattered about the house.
Cope told police his daughter must have strangled herself with a blanket, but she was found to have been severely sexually assaulted and died from being strangled. Someone had also tried to redress her.
Cope confessed after initially denying involvement for hours during a long interrogation, including leading police during a videotaped scene of the crime confession.
But his lawyers later argued a false positive lie detector test pushed Cope to confess to a crime he did not commit. Police and prosecutors have balked at that notion.
Cope’s lawyers maintain that if jurors knew Sanders was a serial predator with similar crimes committed around the same time and area that Cope would not have been convicted at trial. One of Cope’s lawyers, Michael Smith of Rock Hill, said it is now up to the U.S. Supreme Court to determine if the nine-member panel of the nation’s highest court should hear arguments about whether Cope did receive a fair trial.
“We remain optimistic that we will be able to make our argument before the Supreme Court of the United States,” Smith said.