Man sentenced to life in prison for killing friend

Thursday, December 26, 2002

CARTHAGE, Mo. -- A Joplin man has been sentenced to life in prison after admitting he shot a friend to death.

James Copher, 50, pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder in the May 26, 2001, slaying of Richard C. Smith, 31, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Copher had been charged with first-degree murder, but the plea bargain averted a Jan. 6 trial.

In a written statement filed with the court, Copher claimed he and Smith had argued, and that Smith hit Copher in the side of the head. Copher said he shot Smith only after Smith told him, "You're a dead man now."

Witnesses testified at an earlier hearing that Smith ran from Copher's yard during an argument with Copher chasing him. They said Copher fired on Smith from a distance, and Smith fell to the sidewalk. Copher then approached the injured Smith, stood above him and fired another shot into his head.

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