UPDATE: The woman charged with murder in the death of Uber Driver Daniel Piedra-Garcia, 52, back in June is out of jail and awaiting trial.
Phoebe Copas, 48, from Kentucky, was visiting El Paso at the time of the shooting. She claims she believed Piedra-Garcia was kidnapping her to Mexico as he drove the assigned Uber route on U.S. 54 near Loop 375 while driving her to Speaking Rock Casino.
Initially, Copas’s bond was set at $1.5 million by a jail magistrate. During an Aug. 16 hearing, Judge Maria Salas-Mendoza, of the 120th District Court, lowered to a $500,000 split bond.
Copas posted bond and was released from the El Paso County Detention Center. A jury trial is currently scheduled for February 2024.
ORIGINAL: EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Phoebe Copas, accused of shooting and killing Uber driver Daniel Piedra Garcia after fearing he was kidnapping her to Mexico, went before a jail magistrate judge Thursday. The two-hour hearing included nearly a dozen character witnesses, including her parents, boyfriend, ex-husband, pastor, and a city councilman from her hometown in Kentucky.
Ultimately, the judge only altered the terms of her $1.5 million bond.
At times, Copas, who her attorney says is in solitary confinement at the El Paso County Jail, became overcome with emotion and openly wept.
The argument presented in Thursday’s hearing paints a better picture of what led up to the shooting on U.S. 54 near the Border Highway ramp on June 16. According to Copas’ attorney, Matthew James Kozik, Copas requested the Uber from a hotel near the Sunland Park exit of I-10 to take her to Speaking Rock Casino, where she’d been the prior evening with her boyfriend.
During the trip, Copas alleges that Piedra Garcia began driving erratically, asking her, “You’re going to La Feria? You’re going to Juarez?” Copas allegedly said she didn’t want to go to Juarez and asked him to stop the car.
Kozik said she attempted to open the vehicle doors, but they were child-locked. She then allegedly tried to roll down the windows and jump from the vehicle, but the windows were also locked.
Copas’ boyfriend, JC Knott, who says he’s been in El Paso working a temporary construction job, told the judge when he arrived at the scene, he had to get Copas out of the car because she was still locked inside the vehicle.
Knott also told the judge the gun used to shoot Piedra Garcia was his. Copas, who is licensed to carry in Kentucky, was carrying the gun at the time of the shooting.
Before getting into her Uber, Copas called Knott to give him the license plate number of the Uber she was getting into. She called him shortly after to say she’d shot the Uber driver, and he told her to send him a picture.
“I told her immediately as soon as she sent the picture because I didn’t believe her because she’s a practical jokester with me, and she sent the picture, and I immediately told her to call 911,” Knotts testified.
Her attorney argued that a negative national media portrayal of Juarez contributed to her fear that she was being kidnapped to Juarez. Kozik presented half a dozen news articles, some dating as far back as 2017, depicting the border as dangerous. One of the articles cited in the hearing included a Border Report article published on the KTSM.com website about the crystal meth epidemic in Juarez.
“The fear that the witness discussed about her fear of going to Juarez — this court knows very well how news of our community is shared within the U.S., not just El Paso,” Kozik said.
When asked if he knew if Copas read any of the articles listed by her attorney, Knotts said he was unsure.
Much of Thursday’s testimony was from family members who painted a picture of Copas as a family-oriented woman who takes care of her disabled daughter and is active in her church and community. They described her as someone who everyone counts on to lend a helping hand.
The magistrate judge did not lower Copas’ bond, only altering it. She will now be required to post at least 10 percent of a $500,000 cash or surety bond and the remaining in the form of a $1 million personal recognizance bond.
If released, Copas would be required to live in her hometown of Tompkinsville, Kentucky, refrain from using alcohol or drugs, and not have a firearm. She would also waive extradition if she violated the terms of her bond.