Billy Wayne Cope, who was convicted of the rape and murder of his daughter in 2001 yet claimed innocence despite confessing to the crime, died Thursday in prison.
Cope, 53, died with him and his legal team still claiming he was innocent in Amanda Cope’s death.
Prosecutors said again Thursday that Cope was guilty and got what he deserved – life and death in prison.
Kevin Brackett, 16th Circuit solicitor, and state Rep. Tommy Pope, a former prosecutor, both said Thursday that there is no doubt Cope was convicted because he was guilty. Both men tried and convicted Cope and James Edward Sanders for the rape and murder. The prosecutors argued at trial that not only did Cope rape and strangle Amanda, he allowed Sanders to violate Amanda in a perverted and awful death.
“Billy Wayne Cope was a cruel and selfish individual who elevated his own sick desires above the welfare, happiness and ultimately the life of his own daughter,” Brackett said after learning that Cope died in prison. “Today I only feel sorrow for his two surviving children. Like their sister Amanda, they suffered at his hands too. While I am sure they are at peace with his passing they cannot help but mourn the father they should have had.”
Cope also was charged with sexually assaulting his two other daughters, although those charges were dismissed with the right to restore when Cope was sentenced to life in prison. The surviving daughters, in an exclusive with The Herald in 2014, said that Cope tried to make himself the victim when Amanda was the one raped and killed by him.
The brutal rape and strangling death of Amanda Cope in November 2001 and trial in 2004 drew national attention in part because of the allegations of false confessions and Cope’s claims that he was railroaded by police and prosecutors. The Cope home was filled with garbage and other waste and Cope pleaded guilty twice to child neglect for the living conditions.
Cope’s legal team of Michael Smith, Jim Morton and others – including renowned death penalty opponent David Bruck who represented Dylann Roof – were defiant about his innocence.
In a statement to The Herald sent by Smith on behalf of the legal team, Cope’s defenders said:
“In the years we represented Billy, he was unfailingly polite, optimistic, and full of faith, and he maintained these qualities in the long years that followed his conviction. Our inability to save him from this fate is one of the deepest disappointments of our lives and careers.”
Cope confessed three times to the crime but he and his lawyers claimed the confessions were false and coerced by police. Cope had a pending lawsuit claiming he was falsely convicted and tried unsuccessfully to have the S.C. Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court overturn the convictions. His convictions were narrowly upheld in 2013 in a 3-2 vote of the S.C. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court in late 2014 refused to hear Cope’s case.
“Billy’s death marks a sad end to a horrible miscarriage of justice,” the defense lawyers wrote. “Billy confessed to a dreadful crime he did not commit. When DNA later proved the actual killer was a career burglar and serial rapist named James Sanders, who had just been released from prison in North Carolina, law enforcement should have faced up to the truth and admitted they obtained a false confession from the grieving and psychologically vulnerable father of a murdered child.”
Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said Cope’s death is considered a “natural death,” and an autopsy will be done Friday.
Sanders remains in prison on a life sentence. Both men were convicted of murder, rape, and conspiracy.