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Jury Recommends Death Sentence for Farmer in Slaying of Transients

March 21, 1991

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. (AP) _ A jury Wednesday night recommended the death penalty for a 76-year-old farmer who was convicted of murdering five transients in a cattle swindling scheme.

The Circuit Court jury deliberated about two hours before deciding on the death sentence over a life term for Ray Copeland.

A judge has the final word on sentencing.

Copeland was convicted Monday of five counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of five drifters he hired for farm work. Prosecutors said the men were killed to cover up a cattle-buying scheme.

The jury recommended the death sentence on all five counts as urged by prosecutors.

″You must sentence the defendant to death,″ said Kenny Hulshof, assistant state attorney general serving as special prosecutor. Hulshof said Copeland ″demonstrated a complete and utter disregard for the sanctity of human life.″

He said the death penalty was warranted because the men were killed for money and could have been witnesses against Copeland in the cattle swindle.

Copeland’s attorneys asked jurors to show ″pure, unadulterated mercy.″

″You don’t have to execute Ray Copeland to punish him. You don’t have to execute Ray Copeland to protect society,″ public defender Barbara Schenkenberg said. ″Ray Copeland is not going to be any threat to society. He won’t pose any danger to any human being again.″

She told the jury Copeland suffers from a brain disease and would likely die in prison if sentenced to life.

Over the objections of the defense, Hulshof showed the jury color slides of the skulls of the victims, who had been shot in the head. He characterized Copeland as ″a killer for cash, a murderer without a conscience.″

Judge E. Richard Webber said he probably would not act on the jury’s recommendation for at least a month while appeals are filed and a pre-sentence investigation is completed.

Copeland is from nearby Mooresville in northwestern Missouri.

Authorities say Copeland killed the men after hiring them to buy cattle with bad checks drawn on accounts he created in their names. Prosecutors said the scheme paid $32,000 between 1986 and 1989 - the same period as the deaths.

Copeland’s wife, Faye, 69, was convicted in November on the same charges. The jury in her case recommended execution in four of the deaths and life without parole in the fifth. She has not yet been sentenced.

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