SC Supreme Court upholds life sentence for man who murdered daughter

Published: Aug. 28, 2013 at 2:43 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 27, 2013 at 2:43 PM EDT
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ROCK HILL, SC (WBTV) - South Carolina's highest court has upheld a life prison sentence for a Rock Hill man convicted in his daughter's 2001 death.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday affirmed the sentence of Billy Wayne Cope.

Cope was convicted in the rape and murder of his 12-year-old daughter, Amanda Renee Cope, in 2001. He confessed to the crime several times.

Cope's lawyer says he confessed to the crime only after police terrorized his client.

"After two days of no sleep and constant pressure," attorney Jim Morton said. "He told them what they wanted to hear because they wouldn't take no for an answer."

In a handwritten confession that Cope gave to investigators, he said he was having a bad dream when he "snapped and I jumped on the bed and straddled her." That's when he confessed to hitting her in the head and choking her.

His confession letter continued to say that he didn't realize it was his daughter until he had sodomized her with a broom stick and fell back into his senses.

A neighbor, James Sanders, was also sentenced to life in prison after his DNA was found on the girl.

Last year, Cope's attorneys argued to the court that prosecutors had been determined to pin the crime on the father no matter the evidence.

The state Court of Appeals first upheld Cope's conviction. Then that court ruled he could not be convicted of conspiring to rape his daughter with the neighbor, then overturned that decision.

The case has gained nationwide attention over the past several years. 

In July 2010, Dateline NBC aired a two-hour special called "The Mystery in Rock Hill," which featured evidence suggesting Cope was wrongly convicted of the crime.

Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor, Kevin Brackett, prosecuted the original case.

Brackett didn't pull any punches describing his feelings after the story aired on televisions across the nation.

"Dateline's 'expose' was no expose at all," Brackett told WBTV in 2010. "Instead, it's a blatant, slanted, one-sided hit piece designed to make us look bad."

Brackett then launched an online campaign which disputes several of the facts and claims presented in the national show's special

But supporters of Cope questioned why Brackett refused interviews with Dateline crews.

"Mr. Brackett had every opportunity to speak to Dateline," says Jim Morton, an attorney for Billy Wayne Cope told WBTV in 2010. "It was no secret Dateline was covering this case."

Brackett said the Assistant Attorney General advised against doing the interview while the appeal was going on. Cope's attorneys say they weren't allowed to present crucial evidence proving the father's innocence.

Supporters of Cope who claim he was wrongly convicted have launched a website of their own. The headline on the website reads "Free Billy Wayne Cope."

Billy Wayne Cope's other two children were adopted by a relative.

Copyright 2013 WBTV. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.