Copeland, the only son of Jim and Emily Copeland, was a talented debater at Huffman High School and continued to excel through his junior year at Samford in 1989. However, Copeland had gotten tired of all the demands of being on the debate team, especially under Slagle, who was described by other students as a demanding instructor. Copeland wanted to focus more on his preparations for law school and enjoy his fraternity's activities.
As a result, Copeland performed poorly during a practice session. Slagle showed up at his Hunters Pointe apartment in Inverness at 2:00 a.m. on September 21, 1989. The two argued and Slagle then stabbed Copeland to death, splattering blood all over the apartment. Slagle avoided suspicion at first, be eventually fled and sent a confession to the Shelby County Sheriff's Office. After six months on the run, he surrendered. He was convicted of the murder in 1990 and sentenced to life.
In honor of Copeland's death, the National Debate Tournament has named the awards given to the top teams the "Rex Copeland Award".
- Diel, Stan. (April 26, 2007). "Coach who killed debater will seek parole Monday." The Birmingham News.
- Ratcliffe, Al. (n.d.) "Slagle Parole Hearing" . WIAT 42. Accessed May 1, 2007.
- "Attorney general fights parole for killer." (April 29, 2007). Montgomery Advertiser.
- Diel, Stan. (May 1, 2007). "No parole for killer of top debater." The Birmingham News.