Death row inmate dies at SCI-Greene

January 16, 2013

WAYNESBURG – A 56-year-old death row inmate housed at the State Correctional Institution at Greene died of natural causes Sunday, the state Department of Corrections said.

David Copenhefer was convicted and sentenced to death for the June 17, 1988, kidnapping and murder of 37-year-old Sally Weiner of Corry, Erie County.

On June 16, 1988, Weiner received a phone call, purportedly from a congressman’s office, indicating her husband was to be presented with a civic award. The following day she drove to meet with the caller to discuss arrangements. Several hours later, her husband, Harry, a banker, received a call from someone who played a recorded message from his wife. The message said she had been kidnapped and gave instructions for him to pay a ransom.

Harry Weiner alerted authorities after he retrieved a duffle bag from the bank’s parking lot left by the kidnapper with instructions and threats contained therein. He did not receive a radio communication mentioned in the instructions that would direct him on the steps necessary to follow those instructions and therefore could not comply with the kidnapper’s demands.

Two days later, Sally Weiner’s body was found in a rural area near her home with a gunshot wound to the back of her head. The series of computer-generated notes left by the kidnapper for her husband with the initial instructions led police to Copenhefer, who they said was denied a loan by the bank where Harry Weiner worked. Police also alleged discord between the Copenhefer and Weiner families.

In trash, located outside of a bookstore owned by Copenhefer, police found several discarded drafts of the ransom note and directions. Other evidence in the case included Copenhefer’s fingerprints on the original ransom note, guns, ammunition and several drafts of the phone call made to Weiner stored on Copenhefer’s computer. Drafts of the recorded message played for Harry Weiner, the ransom note text, and a 22-point plan for the entire kidnapping scheme were also found on the computer.

Copenhefer filed several appeals of his sentence. His most recent was a challenge to the death penalty. Copenhefer argued that the trial court paid insufficient attention to his lack of a prior record as a mitigating circumstance. He was eventually granted a new sentencing hearing, but a federal appeals panel upheld the sentence last year.

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

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