Copley guilty of 3rd-degree murder
City man convicted of killing his wife; could face up to 40 years in prison
HOLLIDAYSBURG — An Altoona man accused of killing his wife and abandoning her body in a garage was convicted Friday night of third-degree murder, aggravated assault and related charges.
Michael D. Copley, 33, who stood as the jury’s verdicts were announced in Blair County Court, remained stoic and immediately put his hands behind back as a sheriff deputy approached with handcuffs.
Shortly thereafter, Copley was on his way back to the county prison to await sentencing.
Testimony during the five-day trial pegged Copley as the one who killed 29-year-old Catherine Copley at their Seventh Avenue residence in December 2015, then used a friend’s vehicle to transport her body to a garage behind a vacant house on the 400 block of East Pleasant Valley Boulevard.
Her partly decomposed body was found six months later by two young men visiting a relative who lived nearby.
“I hope he rots in the jail cell,” Catherine Copley’s sister, Amy Boob of Altoona, said outside the courthouse after the verdict was announced.
“I do, too,” said Catherine Boob of Altoona, the mother of Catherine Copley. “I pray to God that he sees Cathy’s face every day of his life and knows what he did to her.”
First Assistant District Attorney Nichole Smith said Copley is looking at 20 years to 40 years in prison for the third-degree murder conviction, defined as any killing that occurs without premeditation or intention.
The judge could add more time, Smith said, for the convictions on burglary, abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and criminal use of a communication device.
District Attorney Pete Weeks said he was satisfied that the jury had carefully weighed the evidence.
While it acquitted Copley of first-degree murder, defined as an intentional killing, Weeks praised the jury for its attentiveness and for weighing the evidence carefully during deliberations that took six hours.
“When they rendered guilty verdicts on all the other charges,” Weeks said, “I think that showed that they accepted the commonwealth’s case in chief, and that Michael Copley did, in fact, kill his wife.”
Throughout the trial, Weeks and Smith acknowledged that their case was circumstantial, with no witnesses who saw the murder nor Michael Copley’s efforts to dispose of her body. But they called upon 30 witnesses to hold Copley accountable, supplemented by DNA evidence and computerized software tracking data.
In wrapping up her closing argument to the jury, Smith referred to the late Catherine Copley as the prosecution’s star witness, based on Michael Copley’s DNA under the fingernails of her right hand.
In December 2015 when Catherine Copley was missing, Michael Copley told police that his wife was taking a bath when he left their residence on Dec. 10, 2015, the last time he saw her.
Smith said bathing would have washed away DNA evidence, but after six months of abandonment in an unheated garage, Catherine Copley still had her husband’s DNA under her fingernails.
“I submit that Cathy Copley is telling us who murdered her,” she said.
Trial testimony indicated that the couple had been arguing for weeks over marital issues including infidelity and Catherine Copley’s practice of getting marijuana from a local seller in exchange for sex.
Text messages between the couple also indicated that their exchanges could be vicious, with Michael Copley, in one instance, writing to his wife: “You did get a f—ing attitude and you will think twice before getting fresh with me.”
Catherine and Amy Boob said they are grateful to the district attorney’s office and to investigating Altoona police officers who help bring about Friday’s verdicts.
“During the 5.5 years since she went missing, we never gave up,” Amy Boob said. “We kept strong through this and today, we can breathe. We know she’s finally resting in peace.”
Boob said that her sister “never deserved any of this.”
“She should be here telling the story of her domestic violence,” she said.
Judge Wade A. Kagarise, who presided over the trial, said a sentencing date will be announced as early as next week. The judge also ordered a presentence investigation to be completed prior to sentencing.
Defense attorney Richard Corcoran said he will be speaking with his client about appealing the convictions.
In his closing argument, Corcoran advised the jury that if they did conclude that Michael Copley killed his wife, they should also conclude that the killing was unintentional.
Witnesses testified that Catherine Copley’s death was likely due to asphyxiation, possibly through strangulation. An autopsy showed that her neck muscles were a little darker. She also had a broken hyoid bone, a C-shaped bone at the top of her neck.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.