Husband sang, later shot me, wife testifies

September 23, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

Arthur Copeland began his day last Jan. 17 by singing "Happy Birthday" to his wife of 18 months. He ended it by shooting her in the head, according to testimony yesterday in Circuit Court.

Mr. Copeland, 57, is charged with assault with intent to murder in the incident at Marley Station Mall.

In staccato sentences, his wife described yesterday the nightmare of being shot in the head, blinded by the shot and then pistol whipped as she was chased around the mall parking lot.

Mary Copeland, 59, a public health analyst for the federal government, told jurors she met her husband the night of the shooting as they both pulled up to their home on Rock Hill Road in Pasadena shortly before 6.

He told her to follow him, that he had a birthday surprise for her, she testified. They wound up in parking spaces near the Hecht's store, where he got into her car and told her to shut her eyes.

"I shut my eyes as instructed and felt something cold against my temple. I heard a click and I opened them," Mrs. Copeland testified.

She said she couldn't believe that the mild-mannered gentleman who had awakened her with song that morning, who had worked the same job for 25 years, hated guns and was extremely generous with his four children, had a pistol at her head.

"I said, 'What kind of practical joke is this?' " she testified. "He said, 'You don't get it, do you?' Then he shot me through the midriff."

Mrs. Copeland said she got out of her car and put her hands on the car roof for support.

"He got out and said, 'Get back in the car,' " Mrs. Copeland testified. "I got back in the car, and he shot me in the head. I guess I was in shock. I just obeyed him and did what he told me to do."

"He made a statement to me that 'you never really loved me.' My last statement to him was 'I'm not ready to die yet,' " she said in a quiet voice.

Temporarily blinded by the second shot, she ran screaming through the mall parking lot, her husband chasing her, she said. Eventually, she hid under a car, where she began "playing dead so he would leave me alone."

Mr. Copeland drove off in his Chevy pickup truck with the vanity tag "ATHA," printed on it.

In opening arguments yesterday, Assistant State's Attorney Fred Paone called the attack a premediated, cold-blooded attempt at murder. He said Mr. Copeland had hidden the gun under a pillow he had taken from his house and suggested that he had tried to murder his wife to get her money.

Mrs. Copeland testified that she is worth $500,000, that she had named her husband as a major beneficiary in her will and that he would inherit their $240,000 house on her death.

But Timothy Murnane, Mr. Copeland's lawyer, said that his client was financially secure and that he intends to show that Mr. Copeland was mentally ill at the time of the shooting.

He said evidence from medical experts will show that Mr. Copeland has a brain abnormality that contributed to his condition, that he still was grieving from the death in June 1989 of his previous wife and that he had just experienced the sudden shock of being laid off.

Mr. Copeland had been warned that he might be laid off weeks before the shooting, Mr. Murnane said, and was given notice at about 3 p.m. that day, roughly three hours before the shooting.

The trial is expected to last several days.

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