During a press conference outside the Rockmart police station, Tallapoosa District Attorney James Osborne announced that his office had charged Shawn Michael Kyle, 18, and James Matthew Evans, 18, both of Summerville, and Joseph Gordon Owens, 28, of Atlanta with murder and burglary.
Kyle and Evans, who were 15 years old at the time of the incident, will be charged as adults, the prosecutor said.
“This was a brutal death of a lady who by all accounts was a very sweet person killed in her own home,” Osborne said.
Copeland, 78, was last seen around 6:30 p.m. on October 29, 1998, while she was running an errand, police said. Her body was found at her Forrest Avenue home less than two hours later when phone calls by family members went unanswered.
The woman’s home was found robbed, and police later determined she was choked and beaten.
The investigation continued with “scarce” leads until the Chattooga County Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous tip three weeks ago, Osborne said.
Before that tip “we had very few leads and had done everything we could from a forensic basis,” Osborne said.
Using resources from not only Rockmart and Polk County but Chattooga County and the GBI, police were finally able to charge the three men.
Evans was already being held at the Chattooga County Jail for a probation violation related to a forgery and theft charge.
Owens was in the DeKalb County Jail on drug charges when he was charged.
Kyle is currently being held at the Polk County Jail.
Authorities aren’t sure why the trio chose Rockmart or even Copeland, but they are hoping additional community information can close the case.
“We want the public to know that just a little information is enough,” said Larry Chubb, Rockmart chief of police.
He said many people might have thought that a three-year-old murder could never be solved, “but this goes to show that tips can go a long way.”
The reaction by Copeland’s family was mixed, said Osborne, who earlier told them about the three men being charged.
“This doesn’t bring back Mrs. Copeland but it does provide some relief to them,” he said. “They were appreciative.”
The 1998 murder was very similar to a double murder that happened in June of 2000 less than a block away when a woman and her elderly mother were choked and beaten.
Investigators believed at first that the murders were linked, but Osborne said every angle had to be considered.
The 20-year-old defendant in that case, Chris Brown, is expected to stand trial next spring for a 12-count indictment that includes murder and aggravated sexual battery