MILWAUKEE -- Jonathan Copeland, the man prosecutors said shot and killed Milwaukee Police Officer Michael Michalski in July of 2018 pleaded guilty to first degree intentional homicide Tuesday, Feb. 26 -- just as his trial was set to get underway.
Jury selection took place Monday and Copeland's trial was supposed to begin Tuesday, but his attorneys said their client called them about changing his August 2018 not guilty plea on Monday night after jury selection wrapped up. Copeland, 31, faces a mandatory life sentence.
Copeland was convicted of first degree intentional homicide, while the state agreed to drop the penalty enhancer "use of a dangerous weapon," along with two other charges -- attempted first degree intentional homicide and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm noted Copeland ambushed Officer Michalski in a home near 28th and Wright on July 25, 2018 as Michalski and other officers were serving a warrant for Copeland's arrest on felony drug and domestic abuse related offenses. Prosecutors said Officer Michalski was shot as he climbed the stairs in the home, searching for Copeland, who fired from the landing, where he was hiding. Copeland was also accused of shooting at other officers outside from the window.
"When it comes right down to it, first degree homicide is a life sentence, and so there's isn't a lot you can negotiate under those circumstances," said Chisholm. "That obviously isn't done without consulting with the family -- and it's not done without the defendant making that offer to do it -- so that came from the defendant."
FOX6 News asked Copeland's attorney, Calvin Malone, why his client changed his mind.
"I really don't have anything to add," said Malone.
Several members of the Milwaukee Police Department stood in support of Officer Michalski during the proceedings and created a human wall as Officer Michalski's family left the courtroom -- spared the pain of having to relive the tragic events from July of 2018.
Sentencing for Copeland was scheduled for May 3. Despite the mandatory life sentence, the judge will decide during sentencing whether Copeland will be eligible for extended supervision for the rest of his life after serving a mandatory 20 years in prison.
Copeland's trial had been postponed two weeks because of the death of Milwaukee Police Officer Matthew Rittner, killed in the line of duty on Feb. 6.
The Milwaukee Police Department issued the following statement:
"On Tuesday February 26th, Jonathan Copeland, who killed Police Officer Michael Michalski, pled guilty to the charge of 1st Degree Intentional Homicide. This plea as well as the plea of Ladell Harrison on Thursday, February 7th, who was involved in the death of Police Officer Charles Irvine Jr,. has allowed both families to continue with the healing process.
"The Milwaukee Police Department has a great working relationship with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office and appreciates all of the hard work that was put into prosecuting both of these tragic incidents. The Milwaukee Police Department would also like to thank the members of Wisconsin’s Division of Criminal Investigation for their dedicated work in these investigations. Lastly, the Milwaukee Police Department thanks the community for the overwhelming support that it has provided during these trying times."
The Milwaukee Police Association issued the following statement regarding Copeland's plea:
"The Milwaukee Police Association (MPA) is satisfied in knowing that Jonathan Copeland is now convicted for his heinous actions against our beloved Milwaukee Police Officer Michael Michalski. His guilty plea ensures that Officer Michalski's family won't have to endure the difficulties that a full trial can bring, as well as guarantees that justice will be served upon Mr. Copeland.
"The MPA stands with the Michalski family and our brothers and sisters in blue in these difficult times and looks forward to Judge Wagner appropriately sentencing Mr. Copeland to life in prison without parole on May 3rd."