A teen charged with felony murder after crashing his car into a Swainsboro fast-food restaurant in September pled not guilty to murder and aggravated assault charges Wednesday in an Emanuel County courtroom.
Oliver Baylen Cope, of Old River Road North, faces five civil complaints by victims and their families, as well as two felony murder charges, eight criminal charges of aggravated assault and a first-degree criminal damage to property charge after what Swainsboro police said was an intentional act. He crossed four lanes of traffic and slammed into a Taco Bell, killing 23-year-old Macy Lynn Purvis Mullis of Adrian, Georgia, on Sept. 28.
Cope entered a not guilty plea Wednesday, said Carla Daughtry, deputy clerk with the Emanuel County Clerk of Courts office. The case is set for trial on April 9 and is expected to be prosecuted by the Middle Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, she said.
Cope, 18, is represented by attorneys Joey Cowart and Dan Snipes, both of Taulbee, Rushing, Snipes, Marsh and Hodgin, LLC, of Statesboro.
Attorneys stated in court that they plan to submit an insanity defense and asked that Cope remain in a mental hospital until his trial in April. Snipes provided the Statesboro Herald a copy of the filing, a “notice of intent of defense to raise the issue of the defendant’s insanity and delusional compulsion at the time of the alleged crimes.”
The filing alleges that on Sept. 28, at the time of the fatal crash into the building, Cope “did not have capacity to distinguish between right and wrong” and was “acting under a delusion that overmastered his will to resist committing any acts which are criminal.”
The filing states that Georgia law allows for an insanity defense and that Cope must “prove his mental state at the time of the crimes by a preponderance of the evidence.”
The document further states that Cope “has been diagnosed with significant mental illness(es) as supported and documented by medical records.”
Previous civil complaints by victims and their families stated that Cope could be served with the summons at Georgia Regional Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Savannah. Cope had been housed at the Candler County Jail after the incident, but jail spokespersons said he was no longer being held there.
Swainsboro police Chief Randy Ellison said in September that Cope refused to answer questions about the crash and instead asked for legal representation.
After the impact, Cope, a 2017 Bulloch Academy honor graduate, walked out of the crash, looked around at the chaos and then approached a Swainsboro police officer to identify himself as the driver, Ellison said. He never gave a reason why he apparently intentionally drove into the restaurant.
"We have no idea" why Cope committed the act, Ellison said, adding that there is no known link between Cope and Swainsboro, the Taco Bell or anyone inside. None of the customers nor the employees knew Cope, he said.
"There is no motive at this time," Ellison said.
The incident happened so fast, patrons at the restaurant had no time to react, he said.
"I don't think (Cope) was in his right frame of mind," he said.
Civil cases filed
Aside from the criminal case, five civil complaints were filed in October and December at the Bulloch County Clerk of Courts office.
Tyler Mullis, listed on court documents as “surviving spouse and administrator of estate” for Macy Lynn Purvis Mullis, filed a civil complaint on Dec. 1 against Cope and his father, Statesboro ophthalmologist Dr. Atys Benjamin Cope, for “wrongful death … injuries sustained, pain and suffering, mental and physical” of his wife.
The complaint also holds Dr. Cope accountable, stating he is responsible for allowing his son to drive the 2015 Dodge Challenger despite having knowledge of Oliver Cope’s “severe depression and vivid hallucinations,” for which the document said Oliver Cope was being treated.
According to the complaint, Cope was a freshman at the University of Georgia and had left the school after dropping his classes. The suit stated Dr. Cope knew his son “posed a significant and real risk to the health and welfare of others.”
Four other civil complaints were filed on Oct. 25, each one by Metter attorneys J. Kendall Gross, P.C., and Bobby Jones and Julian B. Smith of Jones & Smith PC, all representing the remainder of the victims involved in the crash. All four complaints state the summons may be delivered to Oliver Cope at Georgia Regional Hospital in Savannah.
All four complaints demand a jury trial.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.