Former Staff Sergeant Granted Extension To Appeal Molestation Convictions

Justin Alexander Copeland [Photo courtesy Arizona Department of Corrections]

A former U.S. Army staff sergeant who was assigned to Fort Huachuca has been granted an extension to file his opening brief in hopes of appealing his conviction on dozens of counts of child molestation, according to the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Justin Alexander Copeland maintained his innocence from the time of his arrest in early 2018 through his trial in April 2019. However, the jury convicted him of 50 counts of sexual conduct with a minor after hearing testimony from his stepdaughter that Copeland touched her breasts and genitals on multiple occasions between June 2016 to November 2017. She would have been 12 and 13 at the time.

Copeland, 34, was sentenced to 34 years in state prison and is not eligible for early release. His court-appointed attorney was to have filed the brief in early May detailing the basis for Copeland’s appeal, but now has until to June 22 after asking for additional time.

Once the brief is filed, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office will several weeks to file a response on behalf Cochise County Attorney’s Office. It’s unlikely that the court of appeals will take up the case until late 2020.

Read more by Terri Jo Neff >>

Court records show Copeland came under investigation in late 2017 after the girl spoke with a school employee at a time when her mother and Copeland were having marital problems. She would later testify that Copeland initiated sexual contact by touching her over and under her clothing at least 250 times while the family lived in Sierra Vista.

The jury found Copeland guilty of 50 acts even though the girl provided details for only a handful of the 250 incidents.  The verdicts do not contain specific dates or descriptions of the molestation, only that Copeland “intentionally or knowingly engaged in sexual conduct with a person who was under fifteen years of age.”

At trial, Copeland’s defense attorney challenged inconsistencies in the girl’s statements to the school employee, her mother, a sexual abuse specialist, and the jury. The defense also noted there were no witnesses to any of the alleged sexual contact, much of which the girl said occurred while other family members were in the house.

After Copeland was convicted, he and his ex-wife were indicted by a county grand jury on charges of tampering and influencing a witness, as well as hindering prosecution for allegedly conspiring to pressure the girl to alter or recant her trial testimony after the fact. Those charges were later dismissed “in the interest of justice” after a new prosecutor took over the case.

Copeland is currently housed at a private prison in Florence and is scheduled to be released in September 2036. He was the subject of a separation hearing initiated by the Army at the conclusion of his trial, but details of the hearing were not made public.