Do Things Really "Just Happen?"
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000
ChristyAnne Dickson has directed the work of the Crisis Pregnancy Support Center as Executive Director of Texas City since 1998. She has been active in the right-to-life movement since 1977 in both volunteer and professional positions. Her work has been the subject of a cover story for the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. She has made several appearances on the 700 Club and has participated in numerous radio and television programs. Over the years, ChristyAnne has been a regular columnist for several Right-to-Life publications. She and her husband, Rick, live in Texas City with their daughter Abigail Noel. Three older children have left the nest. ChristyAnne was an alternate juror in the Scott Copeland capital murder trial.
“Will the defendant please rise.” It was a directive that brought a small framed young man, with drooping shoulders and downcast eyes, to his feet.
“I hereby remand you to the custody of the sheriff for incarceration in the State of Texas for the remainder of your life, without opportunity for parole.” The words, delivered in a neutral tone, were cold and harsh; but as they filled the courtroom, the clarity in the judges’ voice compellingly conveyed the justness of the sentence.
With two partners, Scott Copeland had committed an armed robbery. In the process of that robbery, nearly a dozen people were terrorized as the two masked gunmen brandished loaded pistols in their faces. The victims were ordered to empty their pockets, give up their personal possessions, and to hit the floor. Holding a gun to the temple of a terrified cashier, one gunman ordered her to open and empty the register. As customer Joe Morreale came to the cashier’s defense, the gunman fired two rounds killing him instantly. Another customer, pistol whipped by the second gunman, sustained serious head injuries.
Scott Copeland declined to testify on his own behalf. Never-the-less, the jury saw almost two hours of a video statement Scott had given to detectives when he was arrested nearly two years after the robbery. It was apparent the passage of time had convinced Scott he had gone undetected in this crime. It was also clear Scott Copeland had no real clue that actions have consequences.
The jury’s heartbreak in listening to Scott’s story is that we believed he didn’t intend to commit the murder. In fact, we believed he didn’t set out intending to participate in a robbery.
“It just happened,” he wept as he gave his statement to police, “Amador knocked on my door and said, ‘Hey man, I got something we got to do. Let’s go.’ ” And away Scott went. “I know it was stupid.”, he anguished, “… I should have just said, ‘No.’ “
But clearly, it did not “just happen”. Over the span of the fifteen minutes following that knock, Scott Copeland systematically ignored more than a dozen “red flags”, any one of which should have compelled him to walk away:
- He got in the car, without knowing the plan
- He suppressed his gut instinct (conscience?) when handed a ski mask and a pair of gloves,
- As they drove to the targeted business and circled the block, Scott embraced the plot. (I “…knew it was wrong, but didn’t want to look like a chicken, a chump”.)
- He put on the gloves
- He pulled the ski mask over his face
- He accepted a loaded gun.
- With the magazine secured in the gun, he engaged the first round
- He got out of the car (By now he was rationalizing that he didn’t want his friend to get hurt …he was just going in to cover Amador’s back.)
- He entered the business nervously pointing his loaded gun at one person after another
- He disengaged the weapon’s safety
- He aimed the pistol
- He pulled the trigger (in self-defense and defense of his friend he claimed, when two customers attempted to foil the robbery)
- As a man lay dying on the floor, he ran
- The team went home, split the take and burned their clothing.
The jury never determined if it was Scott or Amador who fired the fatal shots. It didn’t matter. Both guns were discharged and a man was dead. The law as presented to the jury was unequivocal: If a murder occurs in the process of a felony (armed robbery) all participants were deemed guilty of capital murder.
The Bible tells us in Proverbs 13:20 that “He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
Scott’s most tragic mistake was in seeking acceptance from someone he didn’t even know. He had met Amador just three months prior to that fateful night, and wanted to be “accepted” by Amador, a man with a long list of criminal convictions, including prior felony charges. That night, desiring to be “the companion of a fool”, this young man with no criminal record, made choices that would harm him the rest of his natural life.
The robbery netted each participant $100. Ironically, almost two years after the deadly robbery, a crime stoppers call rewarded a pair of tipsters with nearly $8,000.00 each. Amador was well known to police and easy to apprehend. Scott however, was completely under the radar and could not be identified or located. At least, not until the “friend”, whose back he sought to cover that ill-fated night, traded him in for a lighter sentence.
The night Scott was finally picked up by police, his wife was working and he was caring for his infant daughter. Little did he realize as he handed her to a caretaker that he would never, as a free man, see his daughter again. Following the murderous robbery, he had simply gone on with life.
After giving a lengthy confession to police, Scott was utterly shocked to learn he would not be going home. He wept, repeating over and over, that he didn’t pull the trigger, and he never intended far anyone to get hurt. Capital murder charges seemed incomprehensible.
Scott Copeland will spend the rest of his natural life behind bars. He had unintentionally traded his freedom for a moment of acceptance from a “friend”. That Scott will never again know freedom is both a painful, yet just, tragedy.
But today, my prayer is that every parent and teacher reading this story will sit down and have a long conversation with their kids. Our kids need to hear that bad things don’t “just happen”, and they don’t just happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people when they are unwilling to say “No”. Bad things happen to good people when they make bad choices, and bad things happen when good people fail to anticipate consequences for the bad choices they do make. Teens drinking their first beer don’t set out to become alcoholics. Drag racing on the streets is supposed to be fun, not deadly. Drugs are intended for a momentary buzz, not life-time of addiction. Shop-lifting seems like brazen, bold, risk, not stealing. Sexual encounters anticipate pleasure, not pregnancy, deadly disease or broken hearts.
As parents, we must, from the time our children are toddlers, allow them to fully experience the rewards of good choices and the pain of bad choices. While we can not prevent anyone from making bad choices, allowing them to experience consequences will condition them to consider what their choices will bring.
I am convinced Scott Copeland never intended to participate in an armed robbery and that he never wanted a man to die. Scott Copeland never anticipated exchanging his freedom for a hundred bucks. Scott Copeland never sought to abandon his wife and his baby, or to so agonizingly hurt his parents. All Scott Copeland intended, was to be “cool” in the eyes of a “friend”.
What a terrible way to begin figuring out that every choice in life has consequences.
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