copeland trial

Army Staff Sgt. Justin Copeland is led into the courthouse last Monday morning after being convicted the prior Friday of sexually abusing a young girl.

BISBEE — Concerns about post-trial witness tampering led a judge to issue a no-contact order Friday that prohibits a recently convicted child molester from contacting the victim’s mother after the two were recorded discussing efforts to have the girl change her testimony.

Justin Alexander Copeland has been in the Cochise County Jail since April 5 when he was convicted by a jury of 50 counts of sexual contact with a minor under age 15. The girl testified Copeland touched her breasts, buttocks, and vagina between 250 and 450 times in his Sierra Vista home during an 18-month period ending in December 2017.

The no-contact order was requested by Deputy County Attorney Sara Ransom, who told Judge Laura Cardinal that recordings of two recent jail calls show Copeland made “multiple requests” of the girl’s mother, who is also his ex-wife, to speak with the girl “and record (her) recanting or altering her previous testimony.”

The mother purportedly agreed to his requests and said she would send the recordings to Copeland’s attorney. The sheriff’s office provides advisories that all non-lawyer jail conversations are recorded.

Cardinal, who presided over Copeland’s trial, issued the order. It not only restricts Copeland and his ex-wife from speaking about the girl, it prohibits any contact at all — direct, indirect, or via a third party — between Copeland and the mother, or Copeland and the girl.

Criminal charges related to witness tampering and conspiracy to hinder prosecution will be filed against Copeland and the mother, Ransom told the judge.

Ransom reminded the judge that prior to trial Copeland claimed to suffer from sexsomnia, a condition which involves engaging in sexual acts while asleep. But the defense didn’t put forth that information during trial.

Instead, defense attorney Kevin Oursland suggested the girl made up the claims of sexual contact, which involved touching incidents but no penetration or oral sexual contact. The girl testified she was not asked to touch Copeland.

The mother testified at the trial that she didn’t witness any inappropriate contact between Copeland and her daughter. She also testified to doubting whether Copeland could have been abusing her daughter in the manner the girl described.

Copeland, a U.S. Army staff sergeant, is scheduled to be sentenced June 3. He will have an opportunity to present arguments to mitigate the amount of time he must serve in prison.

The no-contact order prohibits the defense attorney from conducting interviews with the victim and her mother in preparation for the hearing.

There’s no record in the court file of the mother being informed of the motion or whether she was given an opportunity to object.

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