Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Sgt. Justin Cope was charged with murdering two children. That was incorrect. He was charged with two specifications of murder against only one child, as well as two specifications of aggravated assault against a different child.
A junior noncommissioned officer assigned to a Fort Bliss, Texas, cavalry unit faces a general court-martial next week on charges that he committed aggravated assault against a child in 2017 and murdered another child with his bare hands in February 2019.
Sgt. Justin E. Cope of 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, which is a part of the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, has entered a guilty plea according to court-martial docket records available online.
Army Times obtained a redacted copy of Cope’s charge sheet from 1st Armored Division officials. Division spokesperson Lt. Col. Allie Payne confirmed Cope’s unit assignment and noted that “charges are merely accusations and Sgt. Cope, like all Americans, is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
Cope did not return a request for comment sent via social media, nor could Army Times reach his listed defense attorney. The charge sheet does not specify whether Cope allegedly assaulted his own children, nor does it specify their ages.
The death occurred off-post and was initially investigated by the El Paso Police Department, though it’s not clear when or why they relinquished control of the case to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. The department refused to release case records to Army Times, citing Texas statutes restricting what they can disclose about crimes involving children.
The charges were referred to a general court-martial on Oct. 8, 2020, nearly 18 months after the child died.
The charge sheet details two episodes of alleged abuse. The first took place throughout December 2017 in Wiesau, Germany, and the second occurred in El Paso on Feb. 10, 2019.
During the 2017 incident, according to prosecutors, Cope “squeez[ed]” and shook a girl “with a means likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.” In a more severe version of the accusation, the NCO was initially charged with “squeezing and shaking” the girl — allegedly causing “a broken clavicle, broken ribs” and brain bruising — but it was struck from the charge sheet.
Cope still faces a second aggravated assault charge from the December 2017 episode for “squeezing” the girl “on the face.”
More than a year later, after he transferred from the Europe-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment to 1st Armored Division, Cope allegedly killed a different child.
The charge sheet says the NCO murdered the child in El Paso on Feb. 10, 2019, by “causing non-accidental and abusive head trauma...with his hands.”
There are two specified murder charges on the charge sheet, but only one child died, according to Payne, who clarified in a follow-up statement that “there are two alleged victims: the government alleges that he assaulted one victim and murdered another victim.”
One murder specification states that Cope had “intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm,” and the other specification says the NCO knew “that death or great bodily harm was the probable consequence” of his actions.
Cope is expected to plead guilty to the charges, according to the Army’s online trial docket. His trial begins Jan. 10 at Fort Bliss.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.