Charges say Virginia man shot brother in head

12 July 2023

VIRGINIA A man allegedly stated that he “woke up from a dream” and found himself shooting his own brother.

Robert James Cope, 30, was charged Wednesday with six crimes, including attempted murder and assault, after the victim was gravely wounded by a single shot to the head at the family’s Virginia home Saturday.

Court documents indicate the bullet entered near the victim’s ear and out his neck, apparently nicking his brain. He was airlifted to a Duluth hospital and survived his first surgery but was said to be on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at the time he was charged.

Cope, who has a history of assault and threats of violence, is on probation and was participating in the Range Mental Health Court program, according to St. Louis County prosecutor Bonnie Norlander.

“The evidence indicates that defendant shot his brother from close proximity,” she told the court. “Defendant’s mother told law enforcement that she did not hear any argument leading up to the fight. This would imply that the shot was unprovoked.”

The incident was reported at approximately 10:20 a.m. on the 600 block of Ninth Street South, where both brothers were living with their parents. As their father called 911, Cope was still on the scene and attempting to hug the victim, according to a criminal complaint.

Virginia police officers arrived within one minute, and Cope complied with their orders to leave the house. The complaint states that the victim was found unresponsive and bleeding on the floor of an upstairs bedroom; a Ruger 9mm handgun and spent cartridge casing were found in the hallway.

The victim was taken to Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, where doctors indicated the bullet had impacted his cerebellum, the back part of the brain that controls balance and other motor functions, according to the complaint.

Cope also was taken to a hospital for observation and was allegedly heard by officers making statements about the shooting.

“After I went in the bathroom, I came out and then all of a sudden I had a gun,” he allegedly said, before adding: “I came out of the bathroom and when I came to, I had a gun coming back from the firing of what happened.”

The complaint states that he also made a spontaneous comment while being transported to jail: “I woke up from a dream and was told to shoot my brother.”

The siblings’ mother indicated there did not appear to be anything out of the ordinary prior to the shooting, telling investigators she had seen Cope go upstairs and then suddenly heard the shot.

Cope has four felony convictions since 2015 three for threats of violence and one for domestic assault and he remains on probation through September 2024.

His most recent offense, in May 2020, involved threatening a group of teenagers with a knife after a contentious basketball game at a Virginia park. He also threatened to stab two people with a hunting-style knife in 2018 and assaulted his girlfriend by hitting, choking and biting her in 2015, according to court records.

Cope most recently was spared a two-year prison term in favor of three years of probation, with conditions including participation in the mental health court, which attempts to connect offenders with treatment and other resources while providing intensive community supervision.

Norlander expressed public safety concerns following Cope’s arrest for Saturday’s shooting, saying police found several firearms in the home that were “easily accessible” to the defendant. Additionally, she said, a ballistic vest with steel plates was discovered in his bedroom.

Judge Rachel Sullivan granted the prosecutor’s request to set bail at $750,000 and also ordered Cope to be screened for a potential mental health evaluation. His next court appearance was set for Tuesday.

Cope is charged with attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree assault, domestic assault and possession of a firearm by a felon.


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