Nestled between Red Mountain and Shades Mountain in a valley where the city of Homewood, Alabama is situated there is a quiet Baptist college named Samford University.
The most unlikely of places for the beginning of a murder. I say the beginning because the murder actually took place off campus at some apartments in the adjoining Shelby County.
The murder victim was the star of the Samford debate team Rex Copeland, and the convicted murderer was the debate team coach William Slagle.
The most unlikely of victims and the most unlikely of killers.
According to the TV show “Murder U”, the first debate of the season was coming up, and Copeland and Slagle had a falling out, because as the program depicted, Copeland grew tired of the constant badgering Slagle was dishing out.
Slagle wanted a national championship and apparently nothing was going to stop him. Slagle had apparently already criticized Rex’s debate partner Allegra Jordan, a brilliant young lady, to the extent she was no longer on the team. Type in Allegra Jordan Samford and find out how tremendously successful she has been since Samford.
A freshman Scott Barber had filled the slot vacated by Allegra, but a practice debate before the first actual debate did not go well with Barber, according to the TV program, and Slagle railed at Rex more than he did Scott Barber, because he deemed Rex Copeland in charge of the team.
According to court testimony, Slagle went to Rex Copeland very early on a November, 1989 morning, became enraged at Rex Copeland and stabbed him innumerable times. One of Rex’s close friends said he thought the only thing that would have enraged Slagle that much was to be told by Rex that he was transferring to the debate team at Southern California.
Slagle was convicted, and I assumed came up for parole, and if so, parole was not granted. Slagle died in prison in 2010.
I’ve written of some of the most bizarre murders ever, but I never thought the tranquility of a college campus where nothing adverse ever happens would be the basis for a murder. Love, money, greed, yes, all murder motives. The desire for a national championship debate team defies all logic.
I debated in high school, and if I had suggested to the teacher who was our debate coach or members of our debate team there would be a murder several years later because of a debate coach’s maniacal desires, I would have been kicked off the debate team and recommended for psychiatric examination.
Any one person had a better chance of being struck by lightning inside their house than a debate team evolving into murder.
I think the show overplayed it when they showed detectives questioning Rex Copeland’s friends to see if any one of them killed him. Too dramatic.
The program did point out, whether fact or not I don’t know, that the detectives surmised that the stabbings were so vicious that the killer probably cut himself in the process. When they checked local hospitals, sure enough Slagle had been in for a cut on his arm.
Slagle did flee the scene but later returned to Birmingham and Shelby County to turn himself in, claiming self-defense when he was the one who went to Rex Copeland’s apartment in the middle of the night where Copeland was studying for the upcoming debate.
Rex Copeland was one of the most admired students on campus. Everybody liked him, except one person. I often wonder in cases of this nature what the person would have become. What the person would have meant to so many other people. What influence he would have had over others people’s lives that they would have been better human beings for having known him. Thanks to Slagle that never happened.
Scott Barber, his debate partner, went on to become a lawyer. I imagine Rex Copeland would have done the same. He and my son, a lawyer himself, might have battled bitterly in court one day.
Then at the end of the trial, they would have shaken hands, and gone down to the local bar for a drink. Rex would have recounted his days at Samford, and our son his days at UA. Kinda comparing notes you might say.
Our son would have liked Rex Copeland. Too bad he never got the chance to know him.