DNA helps RPD make arrest in 30-year-old cold case murder

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Police have arrested a man in connection with a murder that took place more than 30 years ago.

The man was serving time in New Jersey for another crime when his DNA led Richmond Police to him. DNA evidence wasn’t around when the crime took place decades ago, but some of the evidence collected did have DNA, which ultimately led police to a man named James Copeland.

The crime goes back to August 1987, after 51-year-old Roberta Poortje was found stabbed to death inside her home off Stuart Avenue. The murder left some neighbors shaken in what was and still is a quiet neighborhood.

According to Richmond officials, Poortje sold jewelry out of her house, and robbery was thought to be the motive for her murder.

For decades, the crime has gone unsolved. That is until a few years ago, when DNA connected her murder to 64-year-old James Copeland, who was serving time in New Jersey for stealing thousands of dollars worth of jewelry.

Richmond’s deputy commonwealth’s attorney says a Richmond detective ran Poortje’s fingernail clippings that were collected after her murder for DNA. That’s when he got a hit; Copeland’s DNA had been entered into the national DNA database after he was convicted in New Jersey.

Richmond Police asked authorities in New Jersey to notify them before Copeland finished his four-year sentence. They did, and earlier this week Copeland was charged with first degree murder and brought by police to face a judge.

Copeland is currently being held at Richmond City Jail.

A judge denied Copeland bond. His next court appearance is scheduled to be a preliminary hearing on November 29.

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