INDIANAPOLIS — When Eric Copeland was sentenced to 40 years in prison last month, it brought some measure of justice to the family of Greg Raley, the man he fatally shot outside of a Cumberland Dollar General store in 2018.
It also sheds light on a troubling trend in Marion County — the number of young people who are accused of violent crimes and killings. Copeland was just 14 years old when he took Raley's life.
"This is another example of another young man who does something stupid and has access to a weapon that rapidly takes somebody's life without really being able to fully understand or comprehend the consequences of what you've done," Superior Court Judge Mark Stoner said during Copeland's Sept. 16 sentencing hearing.
Copeland, now 18, is among a wave of more than a dozen youths in Marion County who have faced murder charges in adult court in recent years.
There are two ways a juvenile can be charged as an adult in Indiana.
- First, any juvenile age 16 or 17 charged with murder, armed robbery, rape and other violent crimes will be automatically tried as an adult. This is called a "direct file." The state saw 455 of these direct file cases of juveniles automatically tried as adults from 2018 to 2021, according to annual reports published by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. About a third of those cases were filed in Marion County.
- Another is for a judge to decide the juvenile's case belongs in adult court through what's called a waiver. The state allows for juveniles as young as 13 to be tried as adults for murder. Youths who are 16 or 17 can be tried as adults for other crimes, if a judge deems that appropriate. Judges across Indiana waived 127 juveniles into the adult court from 2018 to 2021; 17 of those cases were filed in Marion County, according to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.
Copeland pleaded guilty in August to robbery resulting in serious bodily injury and a felony firearms sentencing enhancement. In exchange, prosecutors dropped murder charges.
Copeland, then 14, and Steven Sheppard, then 18, were robbing a Dollar General Store on East Washington Street in Cumberland in December 2018, court records say. Raley, 37, was entering the store when Copeland shot him.
"You shot a man that was only trying to protect his family," Raley's fiancé Andrea Manning testified at Copeland's sentencing hearing. "You could have just as easily moved one foot to the left and made your escape, yet you chose to end an innocent man's life in front of his soon-to-be wife and daughter."
Prosecutors first charged Copeland with murder and robbery in juvenile court. A judge later waived his case to the adult court. He pleaded guilty in August to robbery causing serious bodily injury. Under terms of the agreement, Copeland was sentenced to 40 years in prison and prosecutors dismissed the murder charges.
Sheppard, Copeland's accomplice, pleaded guilty to assisting a criminal and was sentenced to five years in prison — time he had already served while awaiting trial — on Sept. 7. Prosecutors dismissed murder and robbery charges against Sheppard in exchange for his guilty plea.
Michael Leffler, a spokesman for Prosecutor Ryan Mears, said the 40-year sentence is longer than the maximum 30-years for a robbery conviction. The enhancement in this case tacked on 10 years, he said.
"With this resolution the defendant serves a significant sentence and accepted accountability for his actions that led to the tragic death of Gregory Raley," Leffler said.
In the courtroom, Manning told Copeland that Raley overcame his own legal problems, including a stint in prison. He had built his own successful small business. He had a daughter, a family and people who loved him dearly, she said.
"You are a monster, a menace, a coward and a murderer," Manning said, addressing Copeland from her seat in the witness stand.
"Eric, I've never I've never seen remorse in your eyes, not one time," Manning said. "I still don't. I see hatred.
"Sir, I'm going to tell you I hope he haunts your dreams."
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Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @vicryc.