When you're writing true-crime novels, you have to be picky about your subject, says Carol Soret Cope, author and assistant dean for external affairs at the University of Miami School of Law. "You are bound by the facts," she explains. "You can't just make up something sexier."
Her first book, In the Fast Lane: A True Story of Murder in Miami (1993), has all of the elements: the 1986 slaying of Miami multimillionaire Stanley Cohen and the 1989 conviction of his wife, Joyce, and two of the three thugs she supposedly hired to kill him.
In the Cohn case, Cope had found perfect fodder for a whodunit book, but she had no idea that the book would vault the case back into the spotlight. Buried in its pages is a passage in which Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent Steve Emerson says he doubted the supposed hit men were even at the crime scene. That tidbit, along with the revelation that one of the hired guns had failed several lie detector tests, led Joyce Cohen's defense attorney, Alan Ross, to file an appeal. It also led WPLG-TV (Channel 10) reporter Gail Bright to do a series revisiting the case. During the shoot for one segment, Bright revealed in a sworn affidavit last July, lead detective John Spear told her off camera that he doubted the involvement of the three suspects.
This new information (featured in a New Times cover story January 7) could have the case headed back to trial, and Cope is busy writing an updated forward to her book, which is out of print and scheduled for rerelease at the end of March. In the meantime she's gotten together the main players in the case, including Ross and prosecutor Paul Mendelson, for a panel discussion during Sleuth Fest '99, a mystery-writers' conference in Hollywood.
"What we will do is discuss the issues that have arisen since the trial," says Cope. A main focus of the dialogue will be the defense's allegations that prosecutors knowingly used perjured testimony to convict Cohen, as outlined in Ross' latest court filing.
"Whatever is in [the filing] has made Mendelson very angry," says Cope. "He feels Ross has gone beyond the proper bounds of argument. Paul told me he is looking forward to the chance to debate this. I'm the moderator, so I'm going to have my job cut out for me, but it will be interesting and fun."
Sleuth Fest '99 takes place March 18 to 21 at the Clarion Hotel, 4000 S. Ocean Dr., Hollywood. Admission to "A Dialogue on the Joyce Cohen Case" Thursday, March 18, is $12.50. Registration for the entire conference, which includes special events and meals, costs $200, or $100 per day. Call 954-943-5091.