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Witness testimony points to Copley

Trial opens in killing

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Witnesses testifying Monday pointed toward Michael D. Copley of Altoona as the person responsible for killing his wife, Catherine Copley, based on how the husband acted and what he said after his wife disappeared in December 2015.

In the first day of what’s to be a five-day jury trial at the Blair County Courthouse, District Attorney Pete Weeks called in 12 witnesses to help the jury understand the evidence Altoona police collected and used to charge Michael Copley with criminal homicide, aggravated assault, abuse of a corpse and related charges in his wife’s death.

Copley, 33, is accused of killing his 29-year-old wife and abandoning her body in a garage behind a vacant house on the 400 block of East Pleasant Valley Boulevard.

Her decomposed body was found in June 2016, about six months after she had been reported missing.

Witness Brian Hoover of Altoona told the jurors that he joined Catherine Copley’s family and friends in as many as 40 searches for their missing loved one. Three months after her body was found, in September 2016, Hoover said he was in State College with Catherine Copley’s father, Thomas Boob, when they encountered Michael Copley.

Hoover said Boob and Copley began yelling at each other.

During what turned into a chaotic exchange, Hoover said Copley threatened to hit Boob and told him: “I’ll do to you what I did to your daughter.”

Boob died in January 2020.

Another witness, Brittnee Trexler, told the jury that she was working for Dollar General in December 2015 when she addressed a customer, later identified as Michael Copley, who was purchasing plastic page protectors.

Trexler recalled asking the customer if he was working on a school project or scrapbooking. He responded by saying he wanted them “for his dead wife,” Trexler said, then said his wife was missing.

Family friend Constance Appleyard told the jurors that in the days before Catherine Copley went missing, she remembers learning about the marital discord between Michael and Catherine Copley.

She said it was Catherine Copley who told her that she had been engaging in outside-the-marriage sexual activity that had angered her husband.

Appleyard recalled telling Catherine Copley: “That’s your husband, and you don’t do that.”

After that conversation, Appleyard said she had a chance to speak to Michael Copley who said he was angry with his wife for “doing this stuff” and that he was “sick of it.”

She also recalled Michael Copley saying: “I should just get rid of her.”

“It stunned me,” Appleyard said of her reaction to that statement. “It was unsettling.”

She said she told Michael Copley to talk with his wife and work things out, and if that’s not possible, then divorce her.

In cross-examination, defense attorney Richard Corcoran repeatedly asked witnesses about the lack of timeliness in offering information to Altoona police.

Corcoran pointed out to Appleyard that her testimony reflected a statement she gave to Altoona police in January 2021, five years after Catherine Copley went missing.

Appleyard said she didn’t tell Altoona police about her conversation with Michael Copley but she did tell Catherine Copley’s mother, Catherine Boob.

“Just because somebody said something doesn’t mean they did something,” Appleyard said.

It wasn’t until October 2018 — more than two years after Catherine Copley’s body was found — when Altoona police arrested and charged Michael Copley in his wife’s death.

In an opening statement lasting five minutes, Corcoran told the jurors they should focus on the quality — not the quantity — of the testifying witnesses.

Weeks also called in witnesses who accompanied Catherine Copley on Dec. 10, 2015, to Dustin Salyards’ East End residence to buy marijuana. Salyards told the jury he was regularly selling marijuana to Catherine Copley in exchange for sex. His cellphone text messages confirmed arrangements for a Dec. 10, 2015 sale.

After Catherine Copley was reported missing, Salyards said he started seeing Michael Copley and others around his property.

Jennifer Bailey testified that she accompanied Michael Copley to Salyards’ property where they wanted to look for Catherine Copley. She said it was Michael Copley who positioned a cinder block next to a tall gate, so he could unlatch a lock. As the gate opened, Bailey said she could see into Salyards’ backyard.

“Oh my God, there’s a shoe,” Bailey recalled saying.

Salyards said he twice permitted Altoona police to search his property, including after the discovery of the shoe that belonged to Catherine Copley. Salyards told the jurors he had “no idea” how her shoe got there.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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