Copley’s homicide case will go to trial

An Altoona man accused of killing his wife will face trail.

Michael D. Copley, 31, appeared for his preliminary hearing on homicide and related charges in the disappearance and death of his wife, Catherine Copley, in December 2015.

Altoona police allege Copley killed his 29-year-old wife before dumping her body in the garage of an abandoned house on 408 E. Pleasant Valley Blvd., where it was found in early June 2016.

“This case is based largely on speculation and conjecture and should be dismissed at this time,” Copley’s attorney, Richard Corcoran, told Magisterial District Judge Daniel DeAntonio after prosecutors presented their evidence Friday at Copley’s preliminary hearing in Altoona.

Corcoran said his client was pleading not guilty to the charges.

Altoona police Detective Cpl. David Dey was the sole witness on Friday and laid out the case against Copley through the questioning of First District Attorney Pete Weeks.

“Circumstantial evidence is not the same thing as speculation and conjecture,” Weeks said in response to Corcoran.

Weeks admitted the case against Copley is circumstantial, but noted investigators had compiled DNA evidence, cellphone and GPS data, along with witness statements, that connected Copley to his wife’s death.

“I understand the case is circumstantial,” Weeks said. “That doesn’t make it any less strong.”

Investigators arrested Copley on Oct. 18 and charged him with homicide and a list of other charges, including tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse.

Dey testified that the Copleys and several friends gathered at the Copley’s home at 319 Seventh Ave. the night of Dec. 9, and after a night of drinking and smoking marijuana, the two got into an argument after Catherine Copley accused her husband of flirting with a party guest when they all stopped at a nearby bar that night.

No one saw Catherine Copley the next day — Dec. 10 — and about 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 11, her husband called Altoona police to say she was missing for about two hours. Copley claimed his wife was home all day and was still there when he left that afternoon to look for scrap metal. He then borrowed a friend’s car that evening to pick up a fake fireplace Halloween decoration in Bellwood before he returned home and got a text from his wife that she had gone to buy a bag of marijuana.

Dey testified cellphone and GPS data from Facebook and Google didn’t jibe with Copley’s claim he was in Bellwood, but rather put him in the area of the garage where his wife’s body was found the next summer.

Dey also testified that a woman who was in a romantic relationship with Copley a week after his wife disappeared told police that Copley admitted to her he killed Catherine Copley.

Another witness told police Copley called her the night of Dec. 10 and said he had a bad feeling something had happened to his wife, and that he thought she was dead. The woman told Copley he needed to call police and he did after waiting about an hour.

Dey testified that when Copley called Altoona police early on Dec. 11, 2015, he never mentioned that he had a bad feeling or that he thought she was dead.

Dey also pointed out that it appeared Copley was trying to cast suspicion on Catherine Copley’s pot dealer. One of Catherine’s Nike sneakers was found in the man’s yard by friends of Copley who noted he repeatedly mentioned looking at the location while they were out searching for his missing wife in January 2016. Copley’s DNA was found on the sneaker as well as its mate, which Dey noted was found in the garage and looked as if it had been thrown on a pile of garbage.

Another friend of Copley’s told investigators Copley made cryptic comments that his wife “was long gone” during a conversation about Catherine cheating on him.

Dey testified Copley denied the couple had any problems or had been fighting, although text messages between Copley and a friend in the months leading up to Catherine Copley’s disappearance contradicted that and showed Copley was upset that his wife was trading sexual favors for marijuana.

Another piece of evidence Dey talked about on the stand was the text Catherine Copley allegedly sent to her husband about 10 p.m. Dec. 10 that said she was going out to buy pot. Dey said the supposed text to her husband lacked certain characteristics found in every other text she sent him that police were able to look at from the months leading up to her disappearance. Dey also pointed out Catherine Copely’s cellphone was found at the house after her disappearance and Copley told police he had access to her phone and Facebook account that night.

Corcoran questioned Dey on the cause of Catherine’s death and argued that since a cause of death was not determined because of the decomposition and damage done by animals before its discovery in June, that police couldn’t really say she was actually killed by Copley or anyone.

“She could have had a heart attack,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran pointed out the only evidence that put Copley at the garage was cellphone and GPS data. Copley’s DNA was on the shoes, but he did live with his wife, Corcoran noted in the questioning.

Corcoran also questioned Dey as to why witnesses suddenly came forward with incriminating statements about his client a year or two after the fact and said the story woven by police was “a stretch” because they had no evidence that Copley actually committed any crime.

Judge DeAntonio said that the question of a cause of death wasn’t one for his court but rather the Blair County Court and that prosecutors had met the requirements to send the case to trial.

Also appearing in court on Friday in connection to the Copley murder was 30-year-old Samantha Musselman of Beatrice, Neb.

Police allege that Musselman helped Copley hide his wife’s body, although her attorney, Robert Donaldson said the case “is thin.”

Donaldson said his client was waiving her hearing on the charges and he will look at the evidence against his client. Donaldson stressed that Musselman, who was arrested in Nebraska in late October, hadn’t fought extradition back to Blair County, nor had she moved from the area because of the Copley homicide.

Copley remains in the Blair County Prison without bail. Musselman remains jailed in lieu of $100,000 cash bail.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.

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