Parole request denied in 2010 fatality of Mt. Lebanon mother of 3
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As Benjamin Cope stood before the bench Friday morning, he repeatedly apologized for his actions. He talked about wanting to be honest, a good person, a productive citizen.
But, a few minutes in to his comments, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani cut him off.
"You want to get out of jail, right?"
Mr. Cope didn't answer directly, continuing on about how he wants to make things better.
The judge interrupted again.
"You want to get out of jail, right?"
After the third time, the young man answered, "Yes, of course. It's terrible. Everywhere I go, everyone knows me. They know my situation. They try to intimidate me."
Mr. Cope, 22, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the June 28, 2010, crash that killed Lisa Clay Styles.
The 36-year-old mother of three was jogging along Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon when Mr. Cope, who had been smoking pot earlier, drove through a stop sign at Beadling Road and struck her.
She had been pushing a jogging stroller with two of her young children in it. They were not injured.
"Lisa Styles' dying act was to save her children," Judge Mariani said. "That's the image I have of this case."
Mr. Cope's defense attorney filed a petition for parole for her client Dec. 4. In it, she asked that he be released from the Allegheny County Jail after completing his minimum sentence, one year less a day incarceration, which would be today.
After a hearing of more than an hour, which included testimony from Brett Styles, the victim's husband, Judge Mariani denied the request.
"If Mr. Cope doesn't make it home for Christmas, so be it," he said. "If Mr. Cope has to go on and keep eating bologna sandwiches in the jail, so be it."
The judge criticized Mr. Cope for misleading a probation officer who was completing his presentence report last year. In an interview, the defendant said he left Bethany College after his freshman year because it wasn't fulfilling and instead planned to go to Equador to teach English.
Instead, Assistant District Attorney Rob Schupansky said he learned from a civil deposition that the college asked Mr. Cope not to return because he was found with marijuana on campus.
Mr. Schupansky characterized that and an earlier police stop while driving and smoking marijuana, as two breaks Mr. Cope could have taken advantage of, which would have prevented Ms. Styles' death.
Although the defense submitted several letters to the court describing how the defendant would work at a coffee shop and live with his girlfriend, Mr. Cope was the only person to testify.
He turned to face the Styles family first.
"I'm just devastated by everything that's happened since the accident occurred," he said. "I'm sorry this is your life. I'll never be able to explain the pain I caused you through my negligence.
"I'm suffering from this."
Mr. Cope told them that he owes it to his and the Styles family "to make something decent out of this."
After the judge interrupted him, he asked the young man to describe a typical day.
"They pop the locks at 7 a.m.," he said. After being counted, inmates eat a breakfast of oatmeal or cornflakes.
After another inmate count at 11 a.m., they go for lunch at noon. Mr. Cope said they eat diced potatoes and a hot dog or hamburger.
"It's not good," he said.
Dinner is at 4:30, and is often a repeat of lunch, or maybe spaghetti.
"There's nothing all day," Mr. Cope said. "People just sit."
He is being housed in the mental health unit so he has access to a counselor and group therapy sessions.
He said he spends about five hours a day outside of his cell, but most of it inside. His days are spent in reflection and reading. He is currently reading "Moby Dick."
Mr. Cope tried to exercise at first, but finding the motivation was difficult. His cell is so small, he said, he can stretch his lanky frame from one side to the other.
When it was his turn to speak, Mr. Styles told the judge that one of the most offensive parts of the situation is the ongoing civil case he filed against the Copes.
"They have had plenty of opportunity to take responsibility for their actions," he said.
And instead, he continued, their lawyers have made it impossible for him to move on with his life.
Mr. Styles spoke against Mr. Cope's release. Not, he said, out of ill-will. Instead, he said he hopes that Mr. Cope someday has a career, a family and a good life.
"Why does he get to move on with his life when I don't have the same opportunity?" Mr. Styles asked. "I want him to do right by my family and me first."
He described Mr. Cope during civil depositions as "jovial" and composed, even though in criminal court, he has been contrite and emotionally wrought.
"His demeanor today is markedly different than the 2 1/2-hour deposition at the jail," Mr. Styles said. "Today he's most upset because his own neck is on the line.
"Every time I've seen him in this court, he's been a disaster, and I think that's indicative he's looking out for No. 1."
First Published December 15, 2012 12:00 am