Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Halloween Murder in the Napa Valley


The preliminary hearing finally got underway in mid-May 2006. Lauren once again went over the events of that gruesome Halloween night, and then Napa Detective Todd Schulman described how the investigators had found a small area of blood by the broken kitchen window and two cigarette butts in the yard nearby. He also told how the search, after a massive voluntary DNA dragnet, had led to Eric Copple. Copple had then told police that while he knew he had killed them, he did not remember any details about the violence. He told police he had gone to a party that night and got drunk. His fiancée had driven him home, where he had blacked out. Later he had woken up, retrieved a knife and some "zip ties" from his garage and driven over to Dorset Street. He had said he did not know why he had taken either of these items, or why he had gone to the house.

He recalled smoking a cigarette near the garage, where a security light had come on, and then using the knife to pry open a window. He had gone in, climbed the stairs to the room where he knew Adriane slept, and lain down in a pile of clothing. Adriane had woken up and turned on the light, startling him, so he had jumped onto the bed. He had thought she or someone else had hit him in the face, and, he claimed, had blacked out again. He then had heard a sound from the other bedroom so he had gone there. He claimed he had his eyes closed and did not recall attacking anyone. He could not recall anything that happened after that, except that he had ditched the knife and then had burned his clothing in his own backyard.

Having heard the account of Copple's recollections to police, Napa County Deputy District Attorney Mark Boessenecker then described how the DNA from the blood near the kitchen window had been matched to saliva from the cigarette butts and skin cells on flex bands, all of which had in turn been linked definitively to Eric Copple. There was also blood from him on a wallboard and on window blinds in the house.

Copple's defense attorneys did not question that the DNA was his or that he had been there, but they presented a mental illness defense. Their questions at the hearing suggested that they planned some form of diminished capacity defense. At the time of the murder, he may have been depressed and suicidal, and his apparent memory loss could help mitigate the crime.

Boessenecker argued that the defense's version of events contradicted the physical evidence, which indicated careful preparation and surveillance, not a half-drunk idiot who had stumbled into someone's home. He had brought flex ties and a knife, he had stood outside smoking, he had jimmied a window, and then got rid of the evidence. He had known what he was doing.

Regardless of the interpretation of the evidence, they all knew they faced a long and expensive trial.

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