Stoddard County man convicted of molesting two girls

Monday, August 16, 2010 ~ Updated 11:04 AM

NEW MADRID, Mo. -- A New Madrid County jury took about 20 minutes Thursday to convict a prior sexual offender of molesting two young girls at a Bloomfield, Mo., home in 2009, the Daily American Republic newspaper reported.

The two-woman, 10-man jury found Charles W. Copen Jr., 45, of Bloomfield, guilty of two Class A felonies of first-degree child molestation in a one-day trial before Presiding Circuit Judge Fred Copeland, according to Stoddard County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Rance Butler. Copen was convicted of subjecting the girls, who were then 4 and 3, to sexual contact.

After hearing from a dozen witnesses for the state, as well as from Copen, Butler said, the jury retired at 7:41 p.m. to begin its deliberations and returned at 8:01 p.m.

"It was a good jury; I think they paid attention," Butler said. "This was a long trial; there were a lot of words that were uncomfortable to hear (but) they paid attention and listened.

"I'm very pleased with the jury."

Since Copen was charged as a prior and persistent offender, sentencing power was taken out of the jury's hands and given to Copeland, who ordered a sentencing assessment report be completed by Probation and Parole, Butler said.

Copen faces a punishment range of 10 to 30 years or life, which is computed as 30 years, in prison on each charge, Butler said.

"This will be his fourth prison sentence," said Butler. "If an offender has three or more prison commitments ... the minimum prison term the offender must serve is 80 percent of the sentence or until the offender reaches 70 years of age and has served at least 40 percent of the sentence imposed ... whichever comes first."

Two consecutive life sentences is the "absolute most he could get," Butler said. "The least he could get is 10 (years) concurrent on each count."

After the verdict was announced, Butler said, Copeland revoked Copen's own-recognizance bond and amended it to $100,000 cash only.

Copen was booked into the New Madrid County Jail to await sentencing at 1 p.m. Sept. 14.

At this point, Butler said, he will recommend consecutive life sentences "given all the testimony that came out, his criminal history and the fact he refused to accept any responsibility for what occurred.

"Nothing I saw would make the state not ask for the absolute maximum the person could receive."

During the trial, the jury heard testimony surrounding an April 25, 2009, incident which occurred at Copen's home.

Butler described Copen as a neighbor/acquaintance, who the victims' family had known for a couple of years.

The suspected molestation occurred when "(the girls) were at his house ... when he and his wife, (mainly) his wife, was to have been baby-sitting the children," Butler said. "At various times she would leave and leave the children with him."

The girls testified as to the "acts he committed" on them and "had them do to him," Butler said.

Among the state's other witnesses were: the girls' mothers, their grandmother, a family friend, a neighbor, a counselor and a forensic interviewer.

The jurors also heard from Copen, who testified on his own behalf.

"As far as I could tell, the defense theory was he was never left alone with the children; therefore, he couldn't have done anything and that the children's testimony was so inconsistent you could not believe their testimony nor believe the statements to the hearsay witnesses that the molestation had occurred," said Butler, who disagreed as to there being any inconsistencies in the girls' accounts.

All three girls, Butler said, told the same story at different times to different people over the course of a year so "it can't be anything but the truth."

Butler said having them testify during the trial was "uncomfortable for everybody," but Copen has the right to confront his accusers.

"They either have to testify or go through what I believed to be a long deposition process," Butler explained. "We made the decision with the families that it would be better to do it one time, and one time only, in open court. ... Unfortunately, 3-, 4- and 5-year-old girls had to testify in open court, in front of a jury, about who touched them and where, who did they touch and where (and) when and how many times."

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