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Man denies killing reputed dealer at Harvard

A New York City songwriter pleaded not guilty Friday to murder charges in the shooting at a Harvard dormitory of a man prosecutors say was at the Ivy League school to sell drugs.
Harvard Shooting
Justin Cosby of Cambridge, Mass., died after being shot Monday inside a Harvard University dormitory.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A New York City songwriter pleaded not guilty Friday to murder charges in the shooting at a Harvard dormitory of a man prosecutors say was at the Ivy League school to sell drugs.

Jabrai Jordan Copney, 20, whose girlfriend is a Harvard senior, had traveled to the campus in Cambridge with two other men with plans to rob the reputed dealer of money and drugs, prosecutors said. A pound of marijuana and $1,000 in cash were found near where the victim was shot in a common area of Kirkland House.

Copney and his two companions, who have not been publicly identified, had arranged to meet the victim, Justin Cosby, 21, at the dorm on Monday afternoon, authorities said. Cosby was a resident of Cambridge but was not a student at Harvard.

"The common denominator that led to the intent to rip off Justin Cosby of both money and drugs was that Justin and Jordan were known to each other through Harvard students," said Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone.

A student had given Copney an electronic access card the men used to enter the building, Assistant District Attorney Dan Bennett said in court.

Prosecutors said they have not ruled out bringing charges against Harvard students. The university declined to comment Friday on the latest disclosures.

Prosecutors said they were reserving judgment on who the actual shooter was. The two other men involved in the confrontation remained at large.

Copney is a 2007 graduate of the School of Performing Arts in New York and is a professional songwriter whose compositions have been recorded by various artists, including R&B group New Edition, Carney said. He is listed as the writer of "Feelin' It."

He's not a 'hoodlum'
Cosby's family issued a statement saying he was not a "hoodlum or gangster."

Copney sat in a holding area not visible to courtroom spectators at his arraignment Friday in district court. A plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf, and he was ordered held without bail on charges of murder, accessory after the fact to murder and possession of a firearm.

"My client is not guilty of first-degree murder," his attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., said outside of court. "My client is shellshocked by these developments."

After Cosby was shot in the abdomen, Copney fled to another Harvard dorm, Lowell House, where he hid a gun, prosecutors said. Prosecutors said early testing indicates the gun they recovered was used in the shooting.

Cosby stumbled down the street before collapsing. He was taken to a hospital and died Tuesday.

Bennett said in court that Copney's girlfriend is scheduled to graduate next month but disclosed no other information about her.

After the shooting, Copney returned to New York, where he lives with his mother and sister, Bennett said. His father is a retired New York City police officer, defense lawyer J.W. Carney Jr. said.

Bennett said Copney was a flight risk and intended to flee to South Carolina where he has relatives.

Carney denied his client is a flight risk, noting that he returned to Cambridge to turn himself in to police on Thursday.

Copney is due back in court July 15 for a pretrial hearing.

'Horror and shock'
Members of Cosby's family attended Friday's arraignment but did not speak to reporters. In a statement, the family said Cosby was "loved and respected" by those he knew him.

"We are still in disbelief of the horror and shock of Justin's murder," the statement said. "He was not a 'hoodlum' or 'gangster' — people actually laugh at the thought of him being referred to in that manner."

Cosby's killing was "very shocking," Harvard senior Nick Weissmueller, 24, said Friday. "A lot of students are surprised about the media attention this is getting, but then again this doesn't happen often here." He said it doesn't seem to be changing students' daily routines.

Problems with the drug trade happen at any school, and no one should be surprised that Harvard is not an exception, said Adam Thermos, founder of Strategic Technology Group of Milford, Mass., who has designed building security systems for Harvard and other schools.

"This is an urban school and we have problems like this all the time," Thermos said. "Some of them are visible, some are not, and the fact it's Harvard or MIT or Berkeley or Yale, it doesn't make any difference."

Schools with wealthier students are obvious targets for drug dealers, he said, and students are free to open their doors to anyone.

"It's not a jail, it's not a prison, it's not a military camp, so you have to respect privacy," Thermos said. "You have to expect schools take ownership and pride in their own space. ... But kids being kids, they like to do all kinds of things."