HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Summoned to court to answer charges that he made a threatening phone call to his neighbor’s home in a rural East Texas county more than two years earlier, Barney Fuller Jr.’s anger smoldered as he began drinking.
Two nights later, Fuller left his home with a 12-gauge shotgun, a military-style semi-automatic carbine and a .40-caliber pistol and carried the weapons about 200 yards to the home of neighbors Nathan and Annette Copeland. He fired 59 shots into their house, kicked in the back door and walked inside, opening fire again. Nathan Copeland, 43, was killed in his bedroom, shot four times. His wife, 39, was gunned down in a bathroom while calling 911. One of their two children was shot but survived.
On Wednesday, Fuller, 58, is set for lethal injection for the May 2003 rampage outside Lovelady, about 100 miles north of Houston.
He’d be the seventh convicted killer executed this year in Texas and the first in six months. His execution would be only the 16th this year nationally, a downturn fueled by fewer death sentences overall, courts halting scheduled executions for additional reviews, and death penalty states encountering difficulties obtaining drugs for lethal injections.
Hours after the shooting frenzy, Fuller called Houston County authorities and told them he would surrender peacefully at his home.
He pleaded guilty to capital murder, declined to be in the courtroom after individual questioning of prospective jurors began at his July 2004 trial, and asked that the trial’s punishment phase go on without his presence. He didn’t return to the courtroom until jurors returned with their death verdict.
“He was very adamant not wanting to be there,” William House, one of his trial lawyers, recalled. “From the very start, he just really didn’t care.”
Last year Fuller asked his lawyer to stop filing appeals.
“I do not want to go on living in this hell-hole,” he wrote attorney Jason Cassel. “Do not do anything for me which will prolong my appeals and time here on Texas death row.”
A federal judge in June ruled Fuller was competent to make that decision. Fuller had testified at a hearing he was satisfied with his legal help, no one had coerced him and he was “ready to move on.”
His threatening phone call to Annette Copeland came after Fuller, who drew the ire of neighbors like her for shooting his weapons on the rural property, shot out an electrical transformer that provided power to the Copelands’ home. “Happy New Year,” he told her in the Jan. 1, 2001, call. “I’m going to kill you.”
A sheriff’s department dispatcher who took Annette Copeland’s 911 call about 1:30 a.m. on May 14, 2003, heard a man say: “Party’s over, bitch,” followed by a popping sound. Annette Copeland was found with three bullet wounds to her head.
The couple’s 14-year-old son, Cody, was hit twice and survived, and their 10-year-old daughter, Courtney, avoided gunshots because Fuller couldn’t find the light in her dark bedroom. Cody found his mother’s cellphone and called police.
Cindy Garner, the former Houston County district attorney who prosecuted Fuller, described him as mean and without remorse.
“A lot of times in the country folks argue about chickens and dogs,” Garner said. “He was shooting his mouth off, but no one had any idea that something like this was going to happen, where he was just going to march down the road like Rambo and tear up an entire family.”