by: Greg Suskin Updated:
ROCK HILL, S.C. - Billy Wayne Cope has been in prison since his arrest in 2001. He was later convicted of the rape and strangulation death of his 12-year-old daughter Amanda.
It happened at the family's Rich Street home in Rock Hill in November of 2001.
However, Cope wasn't the only man sent to prison for the brutal crime. A neighbor
and convicted felon, James Sanders is also serving life in prison for Amanda's death. Cope was arrested and charged first, but DNA evidence found on Amanda's body, semen and saliva belonged to Sanders, not Cope.
The manner of how both men were convicted of the crime is why lawyers for Cope were before the Supreme Court on Tuesday,
Eight years after their joint trial in 2004.
After the DNA evidence showed Sanders had raped Amanda, Cope and Sanders were tried together. Rock Hill police said the two men conspired in the crime. Prosecutors presented a disturbing story that Cope allowed Sanders into his home to rape his own daughter while he watched, then Cope strangled her to death.
Defense attorneys have said all along that the conspiracy theory was untrue. Tuesday, in front of the Supreme Court, defense attorney
David Bruck called it a "fantastic" theory, with no evidence to support it. Cope's defense argues that Sanders broke into the house and committed the crime alone.
That's what Billy Cope's sister Susan Archie has always believed, from day one.
"Him breaking into Billy and Mary Sue Cope's house was a snap of the finger. He easily could've gotten in there and got her," she said.
Archie said the DNA evidence clearly points at S
anders, and no one else. "That man's DNA, his semen, saliva, all his evidence was on her. And here sits Billy with nothing on him," she said.
Cope's defense said he was not given a fair trial partly because the jury was not allowed to hear about Sanders, and other violent crimes he had committed. He was a convicted sexual predator.
"They were led to believe he was just neighbor," Bruck said. "But these two men had never laid eyes on each other."
In Cope's confession he never mentions sanders. The jury in 2004 also never got to hear a so-called jail house confession from sanders. He allegedly told another inmate that he had committed the crime, and bragged that he was going to get away with it.
Prosecutors have maintained that several facts show cope was clearly involved in his daughter's murder. First, his confession to the crime, where he also admits staging the scene after her death, includes wrapping a blanket around her neck.
Second, his bizarre re-enactment of the murder on video tape in front of police, when he took them back to his house and graphically demonstrated how he killed her. The defense says
Cope's confessions were coerced by police, and were false.
Police said that there were no signs of a break in at Cope's house that night, and the house was so full of junk from floor to ceiling that a stranger wouldn't have been able to navigate through the mess to the victim, and then get out quickly.
Former solicitor Tommy Pope who prosecuted the case was in court Tuesday to listen to the arguments. Current solicitor Kevin Brackett told channel nine he has no doubt of cope's guilt.
"If I thought Billy Cope was innocent I'd have an ethical obligation to go and get him out of the jail and release him," he said.
Archie said her brother remains hopeful that he'll be released.
"He's very optimistic. He trusts god, and when
God lets him out he knows gods set him free," she said.
Billy Cope's wife Mary Sue died shortly after the trial due to a medical situation, and his two younger daughters are now grown. One is 18, the other 22.
Archie told Channel Nine they are doing well, but still receive some counseling.
The Supreme Court could take weeks or months to rule on the appeal from cope's lawyers. He could be released, receive a new trial, or remain in prison for the rest of his life.