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Mentally Ill Man Pleads Guilty to Murdering His Mother

January 23, 2018

Contact: Alan J. Garabedian, 215.348.6296, ajgarabedian@buckscounty.org

Zachary Cope
      Zachary Cope

A 31-year-old man whose mental illness made him see his mother as an enemy admitted Monday to murdering her in the Lower Makefield Township home they shared.

Zachary Cope, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, pleaded guilty but mentally ill to third-degree murder in the December 2016 stabbing death of Rebecca Cope.

After the killing, Cope told investigators and doctors that he had slain an assassin posing as his mother who had been hired to kill him.

Bucks County Common Pleas Court Judge Raymond F. McHugh accepted the plea and deferred sentencing until March 26. McHugh said he likely would accept a recommended sentence of 10 to 40 years negotiated by Deputy District Attorney Alan J. Garabedian and Deputy Public Defender Nicholas J. Williamson.

In the interim, Williamson said, Cope’s current mental status will be evaluated and recommendations made on the treatment he should receive while incarcerated.

A plea of guilty but mentally ill does not affect the length of the sentence that can be imposed, but it does require a judge to hear testimony about the defendant’s mental state prior to imposing the sentence. Cope could, for instance, be sent initially to a secure psychiatric hospital or to a psychiatric unit of a state prison.

Cope admitted striking his mother with a cutting board and a frying pan before stabbing her and cutting her throat with a knife in their kitchen on Lower Hilltop Road. He told police he had attacked the “imposter” after she ordered him to rub olive oil into the new cutting board – something he said his real mother would never tell him to do.

After stabbing his mother, Cope fled several blocks to Taylorsville Road, where police found him standing in a driveway, wearing only his underwear, a small blanket and one flip-flop in 40-degree weather. Police said Cope had blood on him, as well as scratches and cuts on his back and extremities.

Officers then went to his house, finding Rebecca Cope, 52, lying face-down in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor, dead of more than 70 stab wounds to her upper body.

Julie Knepp, Rebecca Cope’s older sister, told McHugh that the defendant’s parents divorced when he was young, and that he had spent most of his childhood in his father’s custody in Virginia.

Knepp said the boy suffered as a result of the breakup, but that Rebecca Cope “wanted desperately to be a good mother to her son.”

Despite his mental illness, Zachary Cope earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Arcadia University, but did not have a job.

“Zach had troubles; we all knew it,” Knepp said, adding that she was not surprised he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She said she was glad he was pleading guilty and taking responsibility for his actions, and said she wanted Cope to know that she would be around if he needs her.

Still, she said, “I don’t think schizophrenia is a pass. It doesn’t mean you get to kill your mother.”

The case was investigated by the Lower Makefield Township Police Department and the Bucks County Detectives.  


Office of the District Attorney
Bucks County Justice Center
100 N. Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901 
Phone: 215-348-6344 
Fax: 215-348-6299

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