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Inmate serving life sentence dies after being found unresponsive in cell

Crime Watch

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BOISE — An inmate who was found unresponsive in his cell in August has died at a Boise hospital, according to an Idaho Department of Correction news release.

John M. Cope, 59, was pronounced dead at 8:51 p.m. Friday, according to the release. He had previously been found hanging in his cell at about 3:40 a.m. on Aug. 31 at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution near Kuna.

The apparent suicide is under investigation.

Cope was serving a life sentence for killing and decapitating Brian K. Elliot, a shoe salesman from Lewiston in 2002. Nearly a year later, Cope pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

Cope would later contend that his life sentence was excessive and appealed his case to the Idaho Supreme Court in 2006. Ultimately, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence.

In reviewing the case, then Chief Justice Gerald F.Schroeder wrote, “This was a gruesome and horrifying crime that warrants the sentence imposed by the District Court. It would be difficult to rationalize any other sentence,” according to the Lewiston Tribune.