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Son guilty of dad’s death, faces 9 years in prison

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Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

A dinner of steaks and bratwurst with Andrew Coppler, his buddy Desi and Coppler’s dad, Keith “Joe” Coppler, went from tense to serious to fatal in November 2012.

The dad said something that made the son mad. The son gripped his steak knife and lunged at his dad’s neck, breaking the skin but not drawing blood. The dad grabbed a 2½-foot machete stuck into the wooden picnic table and went for the son, who jumped on him and began wrestling to take away the machete.

During the fray, the 21-year-old son, a wrestler for four years in high school, kept his 45-year-old father in a chokehold for too long. Joe Coppler turned blue and his tongue became swollen.

Andrew Coppler’s attempts at reviving him didn’t work. Joe Coppler was taken away in an ambulance after Andrew called 911 the evening of Nov. 19, 2012, and Andrew was criminally charged by Albuquerque Police detectives.

This week, an Albuquerque jury returned a verdict of second-degree murder against Andrew Coppler – rejecting the alternate charge of voluntary manslaughter – after hearing testimony at trial before 2nd District Judge Judith Nakamura.

He faces nine years in prison on that charge and potentially more time for conviction on aggravated battery against a household member.

At trial, prosecutors showed a taped police interview in which Coppler recites the Miranda warning as deftly as if he’d been in a “Law and Order” episode when asked if he wants to give a statement and never demands an attorney even after detectives tell him that his father may not survive the episode.

Coppler had joined the U.S. Marines and had been in for about a month when his mother received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. He was allowed to leave the service and returned to Albuquerque to help his mother.

His parents had been separated for several years, he told the detectives, and his verbally and occasionally physically abusive dad lived at Cochiti and came to Albuquerque maybe once a month.

Coppler told detectives that the day of the fight, he and his father had gone fishing on a ditch in the bosque Afterward, Andrew bought steak and sausage and an energizer alcohol drink. Each of them, including Andrew’s friend, had one.

Andrew told the detectives that he loved and respected his father and hadn’t tried to hurt or kill him.

“I have never been a bad kid, you know, or talk back to him. I never do anything wrong. And I think that’s what set me off is because he’s always saying stuff that’s not true, you know. That’s why,” he said in the tape.

He had his father in a headlock when “he went limp on me,” he told them.

Joe Coppler died about a week after the incident from lack of oxygen to the brain resulting from compression of his neck, according to the Office of the Medical Investigator. An enlarged heart, probably because of diabetes, was a contributing factor.

Andrew Coppler has been jailed on a $1 million bond since the event. Nakamura permitted him to have furlough in September to attend a memorial service for his mother, Mary, who died from her illness.

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