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Carl Anthony Coppolino Trials: 1966 & 1967

Florida Fights Back

Coppolino's second trial opened in Naples, Florida before Justice Lynn Silvertooth on April 3, 1967. State Attorney Frank Schaub, recognizing that there was no direct evidence to link Carl Coppolino with the death of Carmela Coppolino, piled up a mountain of inconsistencies and motives for murder that the defense couldn't counter. High on the list was money. Schaub leaned heavily on the fact that Coppolino was running short of cash. He portrayed the doctor as a heartless philanderer, determined to wed Mary Gibson for her considerable fortune. But Carmela Coppolino's refusal to grant him a divorce had blown that idea sky-high. Instead, Coppolino began eying his wife's life insurance policy, $65,000. With that and Gibson's bank account, he would be set for life. "There's your motive," Schaub trumpeted.

Persuasive as Schaub's case was, other, perhaps more significant, forces were at work on his behalf. Coppolino's reputation had preceded him. Nothing was said, of course, but this particular jury gave Milton Helpern a far more favorable hearing than their New Jersey counterpart. His task was much the same as before, to explain the presence of succinylcholine chloride in Carmela Coppolino's body, and this he did in lucid terms that anyone could understand.

Marjorie Farber testified to overhearing Coppolino on the phone after his wife's death, saying, "They have started the arterial work and that won't show anything." Further questioning clarified that this referred to the fluid used by embalmers to replace the blood. It was damning stuff.

Once again F. Lee Bailey performed brilliantly, but each witness stood firm. And this time he received no assistance from the defendant. Unaccountably, Coppolino refused to testify on his own behalf. Bailey was stunned, later calling it "a terrible mistake."

Certainly the jury thought so. On April 28, 1967, they found Coppolino guilty of second-degree murder, a curious verdict that has never been fully explained; under Florida law, murder in the second degree implies a lack of premeditation on the part of the killer, and anything more calculated than willful poisoning is hard to imagine. Whatever the reasoning, their decision saved Coppolino from Death Row. Instead, the slender ex-doctor who thought he had carried out the perfect murder was led away to begin a life sentence at the state prison at Raiford, Florida.

After serving 121/2 years, Carl Coppolino was paroled in 1979. Coppolino holds a unique position as the only person ever charged with two entirely separate "love triangle" murders. Either case, taken on its own, might have resulted in acquittal, but coming in such quick succession, the two proved insurmountable. Juries are not prepared to extend coincidences quite that far.

Colin Evans

Suggestions for Further Reading

Baden, Michael M. Unnatural Death. New York: Random House, 1989.

Bailey, F. Lee with Harvey Aronson. The Defense Never Rests. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1971.

Block, Eugene. Fabric of Guilt. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1968.

Coppolino, Carl A. The Crime That Never Was. Tampa, Fla.: Justice Press, 1980.

Holmes, Paul. The Trials Of Dr. Coppolino. New York: New American Library, 1968.

MacDonald, John D. No Deadly Drug. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1968.

Wilson, Colin and Donald Seaman. Encyclopedia of Modern Murder. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1983.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Carl Anthony Coppolino Trials: 1966 1967 - Round One, Devastating Cross-examination, Florida Fights Back, Suggestions For Further Reading