Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The True Story of Ray and Faye Copeland

Trials and Verdicts

On November 1, 1990, 69-year-old Faye Copeland went to trial.   According to articles in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, Faye's defense was that her husband had committed the killings without her knowledge. She claimed she was both a bystander and a victim of battered woman syndrome.  As evidence of her guilt, prosecutors presented the list and quilt discovered during a search of the farm.  The jury found her guilty of five counts of first-degree murder.  The judge sentenced her to death by lethal injection for four of the counts and life without parole for the fifth.  Upon hearing her sentence, Faye Copeland sobbed uncontrollably.

Faye Copeland in court, 1991
Faye Copeland in court, 1991
The morning after Fayes verdict, a sheriff involved with the case was transporting Ray Copeland to a Kansas City Hospital for another mental examination. During the trip, the sheriff began questioning Ray about Fayes trial.

You hear about the verdict Ray?

Nah ...what happened?

Well, they found her guilty and recommended execution for her, Ray.

Well, those things happen to some you know, he responded. Ray never asked about Faye again.

Ray Copeland, headshot
Ray Copeland, headshot
On March 7, 1991, 76-year-old Ray Copeland went to trial.   After weeks of testimony and the admittance of the prosecutions ballistic test results, a jury of his peers found him guilty on all five counts of first-degree murder.  He was then sentenced to death by lethal injection.  Upon hearing the verdict, Ray simply mumbled, Im OK.  Ray and Faye Copeland became the oldest couple in American history ever sentenced to death.
Two years later, while awaiting execution at the Potosi Correctional Center, 78-year-old Ray Copeland died.  To this day many investigators believe Ray was responsible for other murders, which have yet to be discovered.

Potosi Correctional Center
Potosi Correctional Center

On August 6, 1999, U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith overturned the death sentence for 78-year-old Faye Copeland.  Fayes attorney was quoted by the Columbia Daily Tribune, as saying, The evidence of Faye's guilt was pretty thin, Faye just happened to be there.  She works in the greenhouse at the prison every day.  She wouldn't hurt a fly.  I think you can ask the warden and he would say he could open the door and there wouldn't be a danger to anybody.  Fayes attorney filed the appeal because the Livingston County jury that convicted her was not allowed to hear evidence of battered woman syndrome.
Even though the death penalty was no longer an issue, the judge allowed her murder convictions to stand and she was ordered to remain in prison for the rest of her life.  Several women's activist groups began to protest Fayes imprisonment, claiming she had suffered enough and that she presented no threat to society.  But their requests to commute her sentence to time served fell upon deaf ears.

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