14-year-old to be tried as adult

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
and Abby Morris


A 14-year-old female will stand trial as an adult, along with her mother and a male co-defendant, in the April stabbing death of a Butler man, whose nude body was found in the Watauga River near Boone, N.C.
According to documents obtained from Watauga County Courthouse in Boone, a true bill was returned Monday in Superior Court by a Watauga County Grand Jury, charging Ashley Nicole Main, 14, with first-degree murder in the April 1 death of Johnny Kert Harmon.
Main's mother, Lori Ann Chappell, 36, of Sugar Grove, N.C., and Joseph Donald Kope Jr., 19, of Iowa, previously were indicted on charges of robbing, beating and stabbing Harmon. Due to aggravating factors in the case, Chappell and Kope will face the death penalty.
According to Watauga County District Attorney Jerry Wilson, "The two adults have been indicted for probably a month now. The juvenile [case] had to work its way through juvenile court and be transferred to adult court by a district court judge, so that's why it took longer with her. She will be tried as an adult."
Main will not face the death penalty, however, because North Carolina law limits the death penalty to persons over the age of 17 who are convicted of committing a capital crime.
In June, a grand jury returned indictments charging the three with first-degree murder, armed robbery, two counts of breaking and entering, two counts of felony larceny, possession of stolen goods, two counts of injury to personal property and one count of injury to real property.
According to a statement allegedly made by Kope to Watauga County investigators, which was read during an April hearing, he, Chappell and Main took Harmon to the river, where they beat him and stabbed him with a tire tool and other instruments before robbing him and leaving him for dead. Harmon's nude body was found in the Watauga River along Guy Ford Road by kayakers.
The three were apprehended following a high-speed chase through two states. Investigators found evidence in a vehicle driven by Chappell linking the three to the death of Harmon.
The arrests stemmed from investigation into a break-in at Valley Pantry, U.S. Highway 421 in Zionville. According to Watauga County Sheriff's Department Maj. Paula Townsend, Deputy Allen Reed responded to the scene and observed a blue 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier bearing Johnson County, Tenn., license plates in the parking lot of the business. The deputy attempted to stop the vehicle, but the driver fled north on Highway 421 into Tennessee, with Reed in pursuit. The vehicle then turned onto Highway 87/88 in Ashe County, N.C., with Kope allegedly firing multiple shots at the officer from a .22-caliber weapon.
In Ashe County, officers from several sheriff's departments, along with members of North Carolina Highway Patrol and Johnson County Sheriff's Department apprehended the vehicle using "spike strips" to deflate the tires. Kope and Main fled into the woods on foot. Chappell, who was at the wheel, was apprehended at the scene.
After fleeing, Kope and Main allegedly stole a pickup truck from a house in Ashe County. Officers spotted the truck and began a second chase that ended when the suspects wrecked.
The three co-defendants will face another hearing Sept. 18 in Watauga County.