Convicted murderer Eric Copple got his last glimpse of Napa early Thursday morning. In the near-freezing morning air, Copple, 27, boarded a van at 7:30 a.m. at the county jail and headed off to San Quentin State Prison.
Copple pleaded guilty last month to stabbing to death Adriane Insogna and Leslie Mazzara, both 26, on Nov. 1, 2004, in their bedrooms on Dorset Street in southwest Napa.
Although he was looking at a death sentence if convicted, the district attorney’s office, with the approval of the victims’ families, struck a plea bargain allowing Copple to plead guilty to the murders in return for a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Copple, who has been in Napa County Department of Corrections since September 2005, when he turned himself in to authorities and confessed to the killings, left county jail with only the clothes on his back — a prison jumpsuit.
He, along with several other inmates, were taken away in a van driven by sheriff’s deputies. They were shackled around the ankle and waist and handcuffed. The next stop was San Quentin Prison for intake proceedings.
On arrival at San Quentin, Copple was taken to a receiving and release center.
San Quentin will not be his last stop.
“We are a reception center. We evaluate the inmates and decide what level prison they will be sent to serve their sentence,” said San Quentin spokesman Lt. Eric Messick.
“They are first given a medical and psychological screening to make sure they don’t have any communicable diseases or need special medication. Then they are given their fish kit, which contains a blanket, two sheets, a pillow case, socks and an orange prison jumpsuit,” Messick said.
From there, Copple will be placed with a cell mate in the Badger Unit, which houses inmates serving sentences of 14 years to life or more.
“He will go through another screening process to make sure he and his cell mate are compatible. While in the Badger Unit, the inmates go thorough a battery of tests, everything from medical, mental, dental and aptitude tests. It’s just as if they were enlisting in the military,” Messick said.
The aptitude test determines the inmate’s IQ. “We measure their reading level and other aptitude levels to help us assist in placing them in the best vocational positions within the system,” Messick said.
The next step is for inmates to meet with a correctional counselor, who conduct a background history, taking into account the person’s social and criminal history.
Copple will be sent to a level four prison — such as Pelican Bay or Corcoran — the highest-security prisons in the state.
“He will be going to a very tough prison for at least five to 10 years. With good behavior he can eventually work his way to a level three prison. But that’s it for LWOP (life without the possibility of parole) prisoners. He can never make a level two prison, which is what San Quentin is,” Messick said.
During his stay at San Quentin, Copple can have visitors. He needs to complete a visitor’s application. The visitor must submit to a background check. Visiting hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
What made Copple kill?
Napa Police know an awful lot about the Nov. 1, 2004, murders. They contacted 1,500 people during the probe, collected hundreds of pieces of evidence at the scene, and sat across the table from Eric Copple when he confessed to the crime last year.
But even they don’t know what drove Copple to kill the two women, they say.
Napa Police Cmdr. Jeff Troendly, who heads the investigation bureau, said the investigation team found the lack of an apparent motive extremely frustrating.
“Copple never told us which one of the girls was the intended victim or why he did it. It’s all speculation as to why he did what he did. He is going to prison for the rest of his life, and he is the only one that we know of right now that has that answer,” said Troendly.
It cost the city of Napa about three-quarters of a million dollars to put Copple behind bars for the rest of his life.
After the murders, Copple went about his daily life for almost a year before he turned himself in to police on Sept. 28, 2005, confessing to slaying the Napa women in the upstairs bedrooms of their rented house on Dorset Street in southwest Napa.
Copple later pleaded guilty to the murders and was granted life in prison without the possibility of parole.
For nearly a year before Copple’s confession, Napa police detectives, state Department of Justice and FBI agents worked to find the killer.
“We started with those who were closest to the women and branched out from there,” said retired Napa Police detective Dick Lonergan, who was called in to assist with the investigation. “We had two very popular Napa women who had numerous friendships, social contacts and co-workers. We had to sift through all these relationships and try to pinpoint people of interest.”
Napa Police Detective Todd Shulman said at the same time the office was flooded with telephone calls and e-mails from “people across the nation who had heard about the case and wanted to alert us about people who we might consider as people of interest. We had to check out the majority of these tips.”
At the time of their deaths, Insogna, who grew up in Calistoga, was a civil engineer with the Napa Sanitation District; Mazzara, a native of South Carolina, was working for the winery now known as Rubicon Estate as a marketing associate.
The house on Dorset Street was locked down for 10 days following the murders so that Napa police investigators, state Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials could process the scene for evidence. They collected about 600 pieces of evidence — fibers, blood samples, fingerprints — we collected evidence from the couch, windows, including trace evidence,” Pieper said.
Napa Police Forensic Specialist Janet Lipsey’s keen eye played a crucial role in breaking the case.
She collected two cigarette butts found in the victims’ backyard and near the curb in front of the house. The butts were the remains of a new brand of cigarettes — Camel Turkish Gold. DNA found on the cigarette butts matched that of the blood of the killer found inside the house.
Troendly said police told Lauren Meanza, a roommate of Insogna and Mazzara who escaped unharmed that night, about the DNA on the cigarette butts. She told them the only acquaintance she knew who smoked was Copple, and that Camel Turkish Blend was the brand he smoked, Troendly said.
Police knew Copple, and that he was involved in a relationship with Insogna’s close friend (and later Copple’s wife), Lily Prudhomme. But he had not been a target of the probe.
“At that point he was on our radar screen. We tried to get in touch with him, but he kept avoiding us. We talked to his wife, Lily, and she put pressure on him to have his DNA tested so it would eliminate him as a suspect,” Lonergan said.
Police say Copple began to feeling the pressure closing in on him. On the night of Sept. 28, 2005, he, along with his brother Tim, Lily and her parents, made that fateful trek to the police station.
“I had just left the gym and got a call that someone was at the department and wanted to confess to the murders on Dorset Street,” Troendly said.
Shulman was one of the first detectives to arrive at the police department.
“Copple said he was suicidal and intended to kill himself that night. He really didn’t show much emotion and didn’t seem very remorseful. He was very stoic. He admitted to killing the women, but then during crucial times of his confession, he would say he had a mental block and couldn’t remember,” Shulman said.
Copple told detectives he remembered taking a military-style, serrated knife from his home on York Street and driving to the women’s Dorset Street home. He remembered standing in front of the house smoking a cigarette. He also recalls climbing through a front room window and climbing the stairs to an upstairs bedroom.
From there, Copple told investigators he either didn’t remember or his eyes were closed.
He told them that after the killings, he drove home and burned his bloody clothes in the fire pit in his back yard. He said he couldn’t remember what he did with the murder weapon.
Copple also brought flex ties — which can be used to bind arms and legs — to the scene. They were found on the floor under the window he used to gain entry into the house.
Police say he provided enough details that night to prove to them he was the killer, even though he never offered a reason.