ALFRED — Five years after Frances Moulton of Sanford disappeared, her case took a strange turn Wednesday with the revelation that the man who was charged with her murder had falsely confessed to protect the person who killed her.

Robert Copley Jr., 24, of Hiram pleaded guilty in York County Superior Court to the felony of hindering apprehension or prosecution. The murder charge against him was dismissed.

Justice Paul Fritzsche sentenced Copley to 10 years in prison with all but three years suspended and three years of probation. Copley, whom police have described as an acquaintance of Moulton, has been in jail since his arrest in December 2009. He will get credit for the time he has served.

The conditions of Copley’s probation include a requirement that he cooperate with any further investigation into Moulton’s death.

Moulton, who sometimes left home for months at a time, was last seen by her family getting onto the back of a motorcycle in July 2006. She was reported missing in September 2006.

Moulton, known as Franny, was 25 at the time.

In June 2009, after receiving a tip, police found Moulton’s remains in a well off Creamery Hill Road in Lebanon. She had been shot in the head with a bolt fired from a crossbow.

Around the time of Copley’s arrest, in December 2009, Foster’s Daily Democrat of Dover, N.H., reported that he had been at the property, smoking and talking to a reporter, as police searched the well.

On Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese said Copley confessed twice to killing Moulton. But in May 2010, he told a detective that he was not actually responsible, and had confessed to protect someone.

That person’s identity was not revealed Wednesday. Marchese said the investigation into Moulton’s death continues, but she would not provide further details. Calls to the head of state police detectives were not immediately returned.

The Attorney General’s Office and Maine State Police corroborated the revised version of Copley’s story and now believe he was present at the time of Moulton’s death but did not kill her, Marchese said. His false confession hindered the case for months, if not years, she said.

Copley appeared in court Wednesday in jeans, a white short-sleeved button-down shirt, white sneakers and ankle shackles. His voice was barely audible in the small courtroom as he entered his guilty plea and responded to questions from the judge.

“You realize, if you had successfully protected this friend of yours, you could have spent the majority of your life in prison for something you didn’t do?” Fritzsche asked.

Copley appeared to agree, but his answer was inaudible.

Relatives of Copley and Moulton attended the court proceeding but declined to be interviewed.

Regarding Copley’s motivation, Sarah Churchill, his court-appointed lawyer, said the personal relationships among the people involved in the case are very strong.

She said she believes that her client did not fully grasp what it meant to confess, and that there were reasons to doubt his confessions from the beginning.

Churchill said no one, including her client, wants to further damage the investigation.

“He has revealed the whole, full, true story to law enforcement,” she said. 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:
akim@pressherald.com