BISBEE – A 12-member jury has found Justin Alexander Copeland guilty on all 50 felony counts filed against him last year related to sexual contact with a minor, according to the reading of the 50 verdict forms Friday afternoon.
Copeland, a 33-year-old U.S. Army staff sergeant, was indicted in March 2018 on charges he engaged in sexual contact with a young girl known to him between June 2016 and December 2017. The girl, now 14, testified that the contact occurred when she was 12 and 13 and involved touching of her breasts, buttocks, and outside her vagina, both under and above her clothing.
Jurors began deliberating late Wednesday afternoon at the conclusion of closing arguments. They spent all day Thursday in deliberations, including during lunch, and resumed Friday at 9 a.m. The bailiff informed Superior Court Judge Laura Cardinal just before 3:30 p.m. that the jury was ready to announce its verdicts.
Jurors, however, were not done with their duty. They then sat through arguments on whether the case involved aggravating circumstances which could increase Copeland’s sentence.
After the jurors left the courtroom to deliberate the aggravators, Judge Cardinal directed Copeland to be taken into custody. He was handcuffed by court security.
A short time later, the jury asked to be excused until Monday in order to consider the four aggravators put forth by the county attorney’s office. The jurors were originally told the trial would be over this week.
Cardinal then excused the panel for the weekend. She admonished the jurors to avoid media reporting of the trial and to not discuss the case with anyone.
Throughout the trial, the jury members posed more than 75 questions to the attorneys, judge, and witnesses. At least two jury questions were delivered to Cardinal by the bailiff during deliberation.
Copeland’s status with the Army is unclear, although he wore his uniform during the first day of testimony and moved onto Fort Huachuca with his children after the charges were filed.
The girl testified that the touching occurred about 1,000 times over several years, with between 250 and 450 incidents taking place in Copeland’s Sierra Vista home. The charges did not allege oral sexual conduct or sexual intercourse, nor did the girl report being asked to touch Copeland in a sexual manner.
Deputy public defender Kevin Oursland had argued to the jurors that the girl made up the touching story due to problems between her mother and Copeland. Oursland also questioned the girl’s accounting of the incidents, none of which were witnessed by anyone else in the house.
In her closing argument, prosecutor Sara Ransom reminded the jury the girl provided details of three specific incidents and had explained in detail how and where touching incidents occurred over the 18 months the girl’s family lived in Sierra Vista.
The trial started March 25 with testimony from two Sierra Vista Unified School District employees who were the first to hear the girl’s allegations. A sexual abuse specialist also took the stand to discuss an interview conducted with the girl shortly afterward.
In addition to the girl and her mother, testimony was presented from several Sierra Vista police officers and Army personnel who responded to a report Copeland became drunk and despondent after he learned of the allegations.
Copeland did not testify but three of his young children were called as the only defense witnesses.
During the trial Ransom asked the judge to dismiss count 51 which had been offered as an alternative to the 50 individual counts. The charge alleged continuous sexual abuse of a minor involving three or more acts of sexual conduct over a period of three months or more.