Leon Hunter Copeland, 30, remains in custody as of New Year’s Eve in the Crawford County jail on a $100,0000 cash or surety bond, charged in a class A felony warrant alleging child kidnapping. Associate Circuit Judge John B. Berkemeyer issued the warrant on Dec. 24 following an investigation by four deputies from the Gasconade County Sheriff’s Department which began at 8:14 p.m. Dec. 23. The girl’s mother reported her overdue from a 6 p.m. Sunday dinner with family friends in Rosebud.
Sheriff’s deputies later learned the girl had been sending text messages to man named “Leon” and had agreed to meet him at the park in Rosebud. Deputies tracked her cellphone to a location in Osage County on U.S. 50 near Highway 89 and later to a location in Jefferson City when the phone was apparently turned off.
Jefferson City police and the Missouri State Highway Patrol were notified of the situation. Sgt. Thomas Dodson’s report indicates they received a call from the girl’s family they had received a text message at 11:34 p.m. from the girl which said she was being driven back to Rosebud and that she was “blindfolded.”
Deputies set up at Highway 28 and U.S. 50 and were informed shortly after midnight the suspect’s car was traveling east on 50 near Linn. Dodson’s report noted no cars has passed their location. However, at 12:45 p.m., the girl’s family informed deputies they received a text from her saying she had been let out of the car one mile west of town. Dodson drove west and found the girl standing on the side of the highway. Copeland would later tell deputies the girl requested to be dropped off outside of town.
Deputies learned the girl’s brother had been “prank texting” with her cell phone on Dec. 22. Those result in conversations with a male where she “purported herself to be 19 years of age,” the report noted. One of Copeland’s friends had received the initial texts, including photos of her, from the girl’s phone. The friend, in turn, passed them on to Copeland, telling him she was not his type. Copeland told deputies the messages were sexual in nature and they agreed to meet in Rosebud Sunday evening. They drove around Owensville for awhile, then went the man’s house in Jefferson City.
As deputies were returning the girl to her home early on Monday, Dec. 24, Copeland, called her cell phone. Sheriff’s investigators asked him to return to Owensville to meet with them. At 1:57 a.m., Copeland met deputies at Moto-Mart and was taken into custody for questioning. He was read his Miranda Rights and provided both verbal and written statements admitting to having “vaginal sex” with the girl who he thought, “If he had to guess,” was 16-years-old, the report noted.
The age of legal consent in Missouri is 17.
The report said Copeland, who resides in the 1600 block of East Miller in Jefferson City, has no prior criminal history. His car and cell phone were seized into evidence along with the girl’s phone. She was taken to Hermann Area District Hospital by her family members to be examined by a physician. Deputies took a “sexual assault evidence collection kit” from the examination into evidence, according to Dodson’s report.
Jefferson City police were notified of Copeland’s arrest and were conducting their own investigation into allegations of criminal conduct in their jurisdiction. Additional charges are expected against Copeland, said Sheriff Randy Esphorst pending the outcome of the Jefferson City police investigation.
Copeland reportedly worked at a Pizza Hut in Jefferson City. He was driving a 2004 Chevrolet four-door passenger car when he was arrested. It was towed by Triple L Towing and impounded at their facility. Det. Sgt. Jim Helton and deputies Betty Sickendick and Thomas Thompson assisted during the investigation. Copeland is scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 9 before Berkemeyer.
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