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Court: Judge didn’t err with life sentence

BOISE – The Idaho Court of Appeals has ruled that a judge who sent a Lewiston man to prison for life for killing a shoe salesman in 2002 didn’t err when meting out the punishment.

Second District Judge Carl Kerrick said at an April 2003 sentencing hearing that John Mark Cope, 43, would never be safe for release into the community.

In his appeal, Cope, who murdered 43-year-old Brian Elliot by decapitating him with a knife and mutilated the severed head, argued Kerrick shouldn’t have allowed a mental-competency report to be included in a pre-sentence report. That violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, he said.

Cope also said the psychologist who did the competency examination shouldn’t have testified at the sentencing hearing.

The three-member appeals panel disagreed Friday, ruling Kerrick didn’t abuse the court’s discretion. In a unanimous opinion written by Judge Karen Lansing, the court said Cope had waived his right to appeal when he agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder.

The original charge was first-degree murder.

“Cope poses a grave danger to others should he ever be released from prison,” Lansing wrote in a nine-page decision. “Accordingly, in light of the primary goal of sentencing – the protection of society – we cannot say that the district court abused its discretion of imposing a fixed life sentence.”

Cope went to a Lewiston hospital with a hand injury from the knife following Elliot’s slaying.

Doctors there said Cope appeared to be psychotic, according to court records. He had previously been hospitalized for mental illness in Idaho and California.

He spoke of “letting the beast out” and told the hospital staff his name was “Dump Truck.”


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