CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — A farmer who combed highways and homeless shelters for men to help him steal cattle became the nation's oldest Death Row inmate Wednesday when he was sentenced to die for five murders.
Ray Copeland, a 76-year-old cattle trader, reached over the bench and shook the hand of Judge E. Richard Webber after the sentence was read. On his way out of court, he said: "I know I'm innocent."
The judge followed a jury recommendation in ordering five death sentences for the slayings of the transient farm workers. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said Copeland is the oldest U.S. Death Row inmate.
In April, the judge had sentenced Copeland's 69-year-old wife, Faye, to death for murder, making her the nation's oldest woman on Death Row.
Their guilty verdicts and the sentences will be appealed, delaying death by lethal injection for a decade or more, authorities said.
The prosecution said Copeland brought drifters to his northwestern Missouri farm, and they bought cattle with checks drawn on accounts Copeland set up in their names. Their checks bounced, and the men disappeared.
In late 1989, after the Copelands were sent to jail for check fraud, investigators unearthed the bodies of five former Copeland employees, each with bullet holes in the skull.