Thursday, January 06, 2000

30 years on the run ends with prison term

Judge: 'Now you have a reason to sing the blues'

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Michael Copening
        Michael Copening admits he ran from a fatal shooting 30 years ago so he could avoid going to prison.

        But he says he still lost his freedom the night he pulled the trigger and left behind everything that mattered to him: his name, his family, his dream of becoming a famous blues singer.

        “I'm just glad it's over,” he said in court Wednesday. “Now I can get on with the rest of my life in peace.”

        He'll have to go to prison first. After pleading guilty to manslaughter in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, Judge Patrick Dinkelacker sentenced Mr. Copening to one to 20 years.

        The sentence, based on Ohio law in 1970, means Mr. Copening will be eligible for parole after serving nine months.

Living in Mississippi under the name Willie 'Dee' Dixon, Copening made a blues disc called 'I Know What the Blues Is.'
| Dec. 21 story |
        As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped the more serious charge of murder, and Mr. Copening admitted killing Stan ford Favors on Feb. 3, 1970.

        Prosecutor Mike Allen said Mr. Copening, then 24, shot the 22-year-old Mr. Favors four times and left him to die in the back seat of a car.

        He said both men had guns and both had been drinking. Mr. Favors' blood-alcohol level was measured at nearly four times the legal limit.

        Mr. Copening fled Cincinnati and changed his name to Willie Dixon, an apparent nod to the famous blues songwriter of the same name.

        He headed first to West Virginia, then down the East Coast to Florida and finally to Jackson, Miss. He spent most of the past 15 years in Jackson, where he moved in with his girlfriend and went to work at a car detail shop.

        He also performed at dozens of blues bars and after-hours clubs around Jackson, singing the blues with local bands.

        Six years ago, he even recorded a blues album with a Jackson producer, Warren Burrell. The album, I Know What the Blues Is, sold a few hundred copies and boosted his popularity in Jackson.

        “When he said he knew what the blues is, he really knew,” Mr. Burrell said in a recent interview. “You could tell he was carryin' something around with him.”

        Mr. Copening's attorney, Norman Aubin, told the judge Wednesday that his client's past prevented him from pursuing his career. Every time he was close to a big break, he said, Mr. Copening would pull back for fear of being recognized.

        “Michael has talent,” Mr. Aubin said. “But he never got to the point he could hit the big time, and now we know why.”

        He said his client spent three decades looking over his shoulder. He never got a driver's license, a passport, a marriage license or a job that required detailed information about his background.

        Mr. Allen said the inconveniences of life as a fugitive are no substitute for prison.

        “Mr. Copening has had a 30-year pass on this case,” Mr. Allen said. “He needs to be punished.”

        Judge Dinkelacker said Mr. Copening apparently has led a “law-abiding life” since 1970. But he said he must be held accountable for the death of Mr. Favors.

        “You killed another human being,” Judge Dinkelacker said. “Now you're going to have a real reason to sing the blues.”

        Mr. Aubin said his client's life in Mississippi started to unravel in November when authorities tracked him to Jackson, apparently after he was arrested for driving without a license.

        Although Mr. Copening used a fake name, he occasionally would use his real Social Security number. The FBI, which handled the arrest, has declined comment on the case.

        Mr. Aubin said his client's best argument for parole will be the life he led while on the run.

        “He still has a future in front of him,” Mr. Aubin said. “He can move forward with his life.”

Michael Copening's life on the run Dec. 21 story

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