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Children Say Father Treated Mother ‘Worse Than Trash’

November 12, 1990 GMT

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. (AP) _ A son of a 69-year-old woman facing a possible death sentence for plotting with her husband to kill five men testified Monday his father dominated his mother and treated her ″worse than trash.″

A defense attorney asked a jury to spare Faye Copeland’s life because of the abuse. A prosecutor said she deserved to die for the killings, which were part of a cattle swindle.

The same jury that convicted Mrs. Copeland of five counts of first-degree murder Saturday was expected to decide Tuesday between the death penalty and life in prison. The jury heard testimony from 17 witnesses Monday.

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Mrs. Copeland could become the oldest person to get the death penalty since it was reinstated in Missouri in 1977. She was accused of plotting the murders of the five transients with her husband to conceal a cattle-theft scheme.

Also Tuesday, a psychologist is expected to testify about battered-wife syndrome. That testimony was not allowed during the trial.

Mrs. Copeland’s 75-year-old husband, Ray Copeland, faces trial on similar charges on Jan. 24 but first must be found mentally competent by the court. His attorneys claim he is senile.

Prosecutors claim Copeland was the trigger man.

A daughter-in-law, Bonnie Copeland, who lived nearby, testified that Copeland never physically struck his wife.

But another daughter said he dominated Mrs. Copeland and her six children. ″He told us exactly what to do and when to do it,″ said Betty Lou Gibson of Richfield, Ky. ″There was no discussion. That was it.″

Mrs. Copeland idolized her husband, Mrs. Gibson said. ″She, like us kids, knew her place. She shut up,″ she said.

Mrs. Gibson, who said she left home at age 18, said she never heard her father say he loved her mother.

A son, Al Copeland of Chillicothe, said he and a brother approached their father in 1986 when the elder Copelands were on the verge of bankruptcy. He said they offered financial help but Ray Copeland responded: ″Stay out of my damned business.″

He said his father treated his mother ″a lot worse than trash.″

″My father tried to dominate me and my family, in lifestyle and work,″ Al Copeland said.

The defense claimed Mrs. Copeland did not take part in the murders and was unaware of her husband’s business dealings.

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But Livingston County prosecutor Doug Roberts called the Copelands ″20th- century cattle rustlers″ who made $32,000 through their scheme.

″If we don’t seek the death penalty after one of the worst - if not the worst - cases of serial murder in the state’s history, when do we seek it?″ he asked.

Roberts said the Copelands, who lived on a small farm near Chillicothe, about 90 miles northeast of Kansas City, had the five victims write bad checks to buy cattle, then resold the cattle, kept the proceeds and killed the men before the checks could be traced.

The men’s bodies were found in October 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.