published Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Copeland claims self-defense in shooting

A defense attorney for a 75-year-old man charged in the shooting death of his live-in girlfriend’s 34-year-old son says his client was defending himself against a man who had assaulted him in the past.

Alfred Copeland faces a charge of criminal homicide in connection with the Dec. 27, 2010, shooting death of Ricky Shell.

Copeland’s attorney, Lloyd Levitt, said in a preliminary hearing Tuesday in Hamilton County General Sessions Court that Shell had a series of domestic violence-related convictions and had previously hit Copeland.

While questioning the investigating police officer in court, Levitt asked if “[Shell] had threatened to punch Mr. Copeland in the chest and kill him because he had a pacemaker.”

Chattanooga police Detective Jayevan Montgomery said that is what Copeland had told him.

Helen Shell, Ricky’s 65-year-old mother and Copeland’s girlfriend, also acknowledged that her son had “beat her up on numerous occasions.”

Copeland told police he was upstairs in his 3805 Arrowrock Road home when he heard Helen Shell arguing with Ricky Shell in the downstairs kitchen.

Copeland said he intervened and, during the argument, Ricky Shell moved toward him, so Copeland fired with a .38-caliber revolver, striking Ricky Shell twice, killing him.

But some of Helen Shell’s statements to police and questions about evidence caused officers to investigate further.

Helen Shell told police that, during the argument, her son did not approach Copeland and that, when he was shot, he was standing in the kitchen, his arms crossed over his chest.

Montgomery testified that the angle of one of Shell’s bullet wounds appeared to show that he could have been kneeling on the floor when shot.

Levitt asked Judge Christie Mahn Sell to send the case to the grand jury as a voluntary manslaughter charge. But Sell said she would not change the charge since there was more evidence that was unavailable during the preliminary hearing.

Copeland has been free on a $50,000 bond since December.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfree or 423-757-6347.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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