In 1991, Faye Copeland was convicted of five counts of first degree murder as an accomplice to her husband Ray in a fraudulent check and cattle-buying scheme that led to the shooting death of five homeless men. She received four death sentences and one sentence of life without the possibility of parole for the murders. During the penalty phase of Copeland's trial, the prosecutor began his closing argument by referencing recent gang violence in Los Angeles. He continued by saying these turf wars made his "blood boil" and made him "weep and cry" because it was "the same thing, right here in our backyards." In federal habeas proceedings, Copeland claimed that the prosecutor’s closing arguments, as well as trial counsel’s failure to object to the arguments, deprived her of a fair sentencing trial. The district court and Eighth Circuit agreed and overturned Copeland’s death sentences.

Improper Prosecutorial Argument, Penalty Phase (AEDPA Standard of Review). At trial the prosecutor made the following improper comments during closing arguments: comparing Copeland’s crime to gang violence in Los Angeles, asking the jury to consider facts not in evidence, suggesting that the prosecutor possessed information unavailable to the jury, and sharing the prosecutor’s personal belief on the appropriateness of a death sentence because this was worst crime to have ever occurred in Missouri. On appeal from the district court’s grant of habeas relief, the Eighth Circuit held that the Missouri Supreme Court’s conclusion that the prosecutor’s remarks did not violate due process was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. In determining whether the state court unreasonably applied Supreme Court precedent, the Eighth Circuit noted the factual similarities between Copeland’s case and Newlon v. Armontrout, 885 F.2d 1328 (8th Cir.1989). In both cases, the prosecutor referred to facts not in evidence, drew a comparison to violent drug gangs to evoke the jury’s fear, and compared the victims to his own son and the defense attorney's son. The court of appeals emphasized that these improper comparisons made up the core of the prosecutor's closing argument, which was brief, and thus would have had a significant prejudicial effect on the jurors; therefore, it was unreasonable for the state court to conclude that the argument did not violate due process. 

The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of habeas relief. Copeland’s sentence was commuted to life without parole, and she died in a nursing home in 2003.