W&L Professor David Bruck recently participated in oral arguments before the South Carolina Supreme Court on behalf of his client, Billy Wayne Cope. The Herald of Rock Hill, S.C. covered the proceedings in an article on November 13, 2012. Here is an excerpt:
The fate of Billy Wayne Cope , convicted of raping and killing his own 12-year-old daughter in a 2001 crime that he confessed to but claims he did not commit, now rests with the S.C. Supreme Court .
Cope’s lawyer, David Bruck , claimed defiantly Tuesday to the state’s highest court that Cope “did not get a fair trial” in 2004. Bruck said the other man convicted in the crime, a sexual predator named James Edward Sanders , is the sole monster.
. . .
The Supreme Court , which spent about 45 minutes grilling Bruck and Zelenka, made no decision Tuesday. A decision could be reached in weeks or months.
. . .
Only Bruck, Zelenka and the five justices spoke. The Supreme Court hearing was a legal fistfight, with the justices repeatedly interrupting the lawyers and demanding answers about the confessions and more. It will take a majority – three of the five justices – to overturn any conviction and potentially order a new trial.
Nobody disputes that Cope was home with his three daughters when Amanda, the oldest, was brutally attacked.
. . .
In the hearing, the justices first heard from Bruck, the Virginia law professor who specializes in claims of wrongful convictions. In 2004, the trial judge refused to allow Cope’s defense attorneys to tell the jury about all of Sanders’ previous rapes and break-ins. Not being able to tell the jury that Sanders was a serial sexual predator, Bruck argued, gutted the defense case.
. . .
“To say that was a fair trial…That simply was not true,” Bruck stated.
The justices then turned to Zelenka, from the attorney general’s office, who claimed that the other crimes Sanders committed were not “sufficiently similar” and, therefore, should have stayed out of the trial. The trial judge’s decision in 2004 not to allow the jury to consider Sanders’ other crimes was “a harmless error,” Zelenka claimed.
But Bruck pounced, describing that claim as “a retreat” by prosecutors who fought to keep Sanders’ sexual deviance away from the jury.
“There is no way that this was harmless,” Bruck argued.
The justices were clearly concerned about the evidence excluded in the 2004 trial. Justice Costa Pleicones stated that excluding some of the evidence “deprived Mr. Cope the opportunity to present a defense.”
David Bruck is a Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse at Washington & Lee University School of Law.