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Prosecutors Seeking Death Penalty in Transient Killings

November 12, 1990

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. (AP) _ A prosecutor said Sunday he will seek the death penalty for a woman convicted of murdering five transients to cover up a cattle theft scheme.

The jury that convicted Faye Copeland on Saturday was to return Monday to decide between a life sentence or execution.

Mrs. Copeland’s attorney, David Miller, said he will request a new trial, calling it a ″major issue″ that the judge did not allow a psychologist to testify about her husband’s domination over her life.

Mrs. Copeland’s husband, 75-year-old Ray Copeland, is scheduled for trial Jan. 24 on murder charges in the case. A court must first determine whether he is mentally competent to stand trial. His lawyers contend he is senile.

A jury in Livingston County in rural, northwest Missouri convicted Mrs. Copeland, 69, of five counts of first-degree murder.

The bodies of the five men were found in fall 1989 near farms where Copeland had done odd jobs, after a tip from another drifter who had worked for the couple. All had been shot in the head.

Prosecutors said the couple had the transients open bank accounts in their names and buy cattle at various sales. The Copelands then resold the cattle, keeping the proceeds and killing the transients before the checks could be traced, they said.

Townspeople had mixed feelings about Mrs. Copeland’s part in the slayings.

″There was feeling both ways,″ said resident Leroy Butts, who watched portions of the trial. ″A lot of people felt kind of sorry for her. But all those men were dead and you wonder how she didn’t know anything about it.″

Mrs. Copeland buried her face in her hands and sobbed after the verdict was read, saying, ″I never done nothing.″

Miller said he will call a Kansas City psychologist to testify about battered-wife syndrome during the trial’s penalty phase. The testimony was ruled inadmissible during the trial.

Miller said he would also call six other witnesses, including family members, to show a pattern of domination in Mrs. Copeland’s life.

The defense had tried to prove she did not participate in the killings and was not privy to her husband’s business dealings.

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