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Copher v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

March 15, 2019

WILLIAM E. COPHER, Movant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent-Respondent.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY HONORABLE LAURA J. JOHNSON, JUDGE.

          OPINION AUTHOR

          WILLIAM W. FRANCIS, JR., P.J.

         William E. Copher ("Copher"), appeals from a judgment of the motion court denying his amended Rule 29.15[1] motion, which claimed that trial counsel was ineffective for advising Copher not to testify in his own defense. Finding no merit to Copher's point relied on, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Relevant to our disposition in the current appeal, the evidence adduced at trial was as follows. Victim and Copher had an intimate relationship. Copher would "at times" stay with Victim at her home.

         On January 3, 2012, Victim had an appointment to perform community service as part of the terms of her probation. Copher did not believe her, instead declaring that she was going to see a male friend of hers. Copher became angry and accused Victim of cheating on him. He took Victim's cell phone and car keys.

         Over the next several days, the couple had several more arguments, during which Copher physically assaulted Victim. Victim suffered a black eye; a busted lip; numerous cuts and abrasions on her body; cuts to her scalp from Copher stomping on her head; and burns on her legs, arms, and torso from hot butter splatters.[2] Copher threatened Victim with a pocketknife, holding it to her throat and threatening to "cut [her] face up[;]" lit a propane torch threatening to burn Victim's face so that "nobody would want [her] anymore[;]" and threatened to kill Victim with a hammer. Copher also hit Victim's dog when the dog tried to protect Victim, causing Victim to kick Copher in the face. Copher responded by repeatedly punching Victim in the face. Copher threatened that if Victim contacted police, he would kill her and dismember her body.

         On the morning of January 5, 2012, Victim told Copher she had to attend her weekly meeting with her probation officer. Upon arrival at the probation office, Victim began crying. Her probation officer saw her black eye and noted that Victim was "very frazzled, crying, nervous[, ]" had apparent blood in her hair, and had an injury to one of her ears. The probation officer took Victim to file an order of protection and to write out a statement for the sheriff's department, which Victim kept instead of leaving with the department.

         Later that day, sheriff's deputies went to Victim's home to speak with her about the report. Deputies observed Victim's black eye, she was visibly scared and shaking, and told the deputies that she did not want to cooperate anymore because she was in fear for her life. Victim refused to file the report or allow photographs to be taken of her injuries. After checking the house to ensure Copher was not there, the deputies left.

         As the deputies were traveling from the residence, a car carrying Victim's probation officer and other probation personnel flashed its lights at the patrol car to get it to stop. Deputies were told there was concern for Victim's safety, so they returned to Victim's residence. Victim's probation officer convinced her to give a report to the deputies, and have her injuries photographed. The deputies and probation officer also noted the house was in disarray, with broken mirrors throughout the house.

         Copher was charged by amended felony information with the class C Felony of domestic assault in the second degree for choking Victim; the class D felony of unlawful use of a weapon (a knife); and the class D felony of domestic assault in the third degree for punching Victim in the face.

         Trial commenced on September 9, 2013, with Victim, her probation officer, and law enforcement testifying. Before the State rested its case, the trial court inquired as to whether Copher wanted to testify in his own defense. The following colloquy took place:

THE COURT: We're on the record. [Defense counsel], have you had [a] chance to visit with your client about his presenting any evidence?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Yes, Judge. And I have talked to him about his right not to testify. And I guess, I mean, he's decided not to testify. The State apparently has not rested yet.
THE COURT: Okay.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: So obviously he will have to make a final decision when the State ...

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