Nancy Cooper

Appellate judges hear Brad Cooper's case for new trial

Posted April 9, 2013

— The North Carolina Court of Appeals heard oral arguments for about an hour Tuesday morning in the high-profile case of a Cary man serving life in prison for strangling his wife and dumping her body in an unfinished housing development nearly five years ago.

Nancy Cooper with family Full coverage: Nancy Cooper murder case

Brad Cooper, 39, was found guilty in May 2011 of first-degree murder in the July 2008 death of 34-year-old Nancy Cooper, whose body was found in a drainage ditch in a cul-de-sac of an undeveloped subdivision near their Cary home.

The appeal of his conviction before the three-judge panel centered on rulings that a Wake County Superior Court judge made regarding a Google Maps search of the site where Nancy Cooper's body was found – the only concrete evidence linking Brad Cooper to the crime.

Nancy Cooper Nancy Cooper case images

The state argued the search was made the day before Nancy Cooper disappeared, but defense attorneys claimed the computer had been hacked and that the evidence had been planted on the machine.

The judge ruled that two witnesses the defense presented to support their argument, however, could not testify.

Jay Ward was a network security professional but was found by the trial court not to be qualified as a forensics computer analyst. Giovanni Masucci wasn't allowed, partly because the judge found that his name was not on a potential witness list, as required by law.

"The defendant has a constitutional right to present his defense," appellate attorney Ann Peterson told the panel of judges. "The Google Maps (evidence) was his defense. Mr. Ward or Mr. Massuci was his defense, and the jury heard none of it."

Ann Peterson Brad Cooper NC Appeals Court hearing

The judges' questioning focused partly on the definition of a forensics computer analyst.

"Jay Ward specifically said he was not one," Assistant Attorney General Latoya Powell, said, noting that Ward also admitted that he had no training to use any of the forensic tools he had borrowed to work on the Cooper case.

Peterson argued, however, that even though he didn't hold the title of a forensics examiner, his career expertise qualified him to explain the data and results to the jury. She likened the situation to a medical examiner testifying about bullet wounds.

"He's not a ballistics expert, but he gets to testify because he sees it all the time, He works with it all the time, and his knowledge is better than the jurors," she said. "There's no question that Mr. Ward was not certified, but he had worked with that data for 20 years. He knew those computers inside and out. He was the super-expert, and he wasn't allowed to testify."

Nancy Cooper and her daughters Brad Cooper fights for new trial

Powell disagreed.

"Mr. Ward testified that he had only conducted two forensic examinations in his career," she said.

As for Masucci's testimony, Peterson argued, his opinions were identical to Ward's and there was no reason the state could not have been prepared to proceed with his testimony.

Prosecutors objected to allowing him to be called, saying they did not have time to properly prepare an adequate cross-examination because Masucci was a last-minute witness.

But that wasn't the case, Peterson said, because Masucci's findings and opinions were identical to Ward's.

"They had the opinions. They had the data. They had everything they needed except Mr. Masucci's background, which is what the witness list is intended to do – give them the names of the people so they can go and figure out what this person's background is," Peterson said. "They had the expert opinions. They didn't need time to research that."

The North Carolina Attorney General's Office said in a brief filed in February that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it came to the three rulings and that any error would have been "harmless" because of an "overwhelming" amount of circumstantial evidence in the case.

Nearly 100 people testified over the course of 36 days in the trial as prosecutors sought to prove that Brad Cooper planned his wife's murder and killed her after she returned home from a neighborhood party in the early hours of July 12, 2008.

Witnesses said the Coopers, who moved to Cary from Canada, were in the process of separating and that Nancy Cooper wanted to move back to Canada with their two young children but that Brad Cooper had become controlling of the family finances and, at one point, had taken one child’s passport to keep them from leaving the country.

Defense attorneys argued that Nancy Cooper went jogging on the morning of her death and never returned home.

The investigation into her death was marred by "dishonest" and "inept" police work, they said, alleging that investigators never looked beyond Brad Cooper as a suspect because they were concerned that a random murder would tarnish Cary's reputation as a safe community.

Jurors deliberated for three days before returning their guilty verdict.

The jury foreman said a month after the trial that the map evidence "drove the outcome" of the case and caused "a lot of the other circumstantial evidence to become relevant and credible."

Brad Cooper's defense attorney, Howard Kurtz has said he is hopeful for an appeal and believes "we have a tremendously good chance."

As for Brad Cooper, he awaits an appellate decision – which could be rendered in the next three months – at Central Prison in Raleigh, where he has been since his conviction, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.

"I think he's pretty down," Peterson said after Tuesday's hearing. "You would be too if you lost your wife and your kids and were sitting in jail. I think he's pretty down."

When asked if he is optimistic about his case, she replied:

"It's hope. That's all."


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  • lynne0312 Apr 10, 2013

    "-and those shoes never recovered" You must have missed the testimony from Det Young. They never asked Brad for the shoes and when asked in court, Young said he never *searched* for the "missing" shoes. This was *fabricated* evidence by the State. It was misleading and very unethical.

    Give me another example of CE and I will dispute every single one of them with FACTS. Real, solid facts.

  • lynne0312 Apr 10, 2013

    "-the FBI did not find the google map search in his internet cache, by any means. They had to dissect the hard drive into layers and of course it had been erased but not yet written over by new data."

    This is false. The files were found in the temporary internet files. Brad hadn't cleared anything as there were tons of files and cookies on the machine dating back months.

    Agent Johnson testified that there was no evidence that private browsing and therefore cleared cache was used and they looked. There was also a missing cookie. No cookie associated with the search and NO deleted cookie and the FBI is able to detect deleted cookies. Brad didn't do the search.

  • dollibug Apr 10, 2013

    @wmp8396 there was a ton of circumstantial evidence.

    So I guess the jurors did not hear or see that *there was a ton of circumstantial evidence*....since according to the foreman the conviction was based on the *google search*....I guess nothing else counted to them either.

  • wmp8396 Apr 10, 2013

    What is this 'there is no 'solid' evidence. Geez folks, there was a ton of circumstantial evidence, and our law makes no difference between 'solid' 'physical' evidence and circumstantial evidence. There was a ton of circumstantial evidence. One just pops into mind right off--how about his shoe change between Harris Teeter visits, 15 minutes apart on the early morning--and those shoes never recovered. (sound familiar to Jason Young?). Just one --there were so many things that added together, just don't happen randomly.

  • wmp8396 Apr 10, 2013

    --Remeber, Cary Police argued that Cooper was smart enough to fake a phone call from his house to his cell phone, but dumb enough to not clear his internet cache that shows what sites he visited.

    You may not remember the trial testimony on this internet cache. He cleared it many times--do you recall where he asked his boss at Cisco for their most powerful hard drive scrubbing tool? His boss was even surprised he would need such software. Probably not random. Ofcourse he did his best to clear every computer of traces--the FBI did not find the google map search in his internet cache, by any means. They had to dissect the hard drive into layers and ofcourse it had been erased but not yet written over by new data. That sector overwrite would have made it possibly impossible to recover. To think this data was planted is beyond foolish---please, get a grip everyone--Brad Cooper did the search--that is not even up for question.

  • lynne0312 Apr 10, 2013

    "If I had been one of these jury members, I know I would have fltl the same way they did; right or wrong, it was their opinion as to how they felt at the time. If you don't like NC Laws and feel they need to be changed, take a position where you can make the necessary changes."

    Maybe you didn't watch the arguments yesterday. Did you not get that the State acted as if they were above the law by ignoring proper Discovery rules by hiding behind "national security",(of course the judge was wrong to allow this too).

    The laws are fine when people follow them. Brad Cooper had his right to defend himself stripped away because those in power chose not to follow the law. THAT is what the appeal is about and it's important for all of us. What they did to him was unfair and we must not tolerate it.

  • lynne0312 Apr 10, 2013

    He needs to stay in jail. Whether you agree or not, he is a convicted murderer, & that was proven by the 12 jury members that sat in the box, listened to the trial, diliberated, and rendered their unanimous decision. Get over it
    April 10, 2013 1:43 p.m.

    Would you say the same to Greg Taylor? Wake county prosecutors have been railroading innocent people away for a very long time apparently. This has to stop. Free Brad Cooper and Free Jason Young.

  • mtnmama Apr 10, 2013

    12 jurors did NOT prove he was guilty. 12 jurors only rendered a decision based on 2 things: 1)- they only heard PART of the evidence, and, 2)- they were tired & wanted their lives back. Neither "proves" guilt. Sheesh!

  • what_in_the____ Apr 10, 2013

    "Are you also aware the jurors in this particular case verbally indicated they were done with the trial and ready to go home? Kind of makes you wonder if they acted with the utmost care and thoughtfulness in rendering their verdict, doesn't it? Shameful attitude when a man is on trial for his life." cruisechik...

    If I had been one of these jury members, I know I would have fltl the same way they did; right or wrong, it was their opinion as to how they felt at the time. If you don't like NC Laws and feel they need to be changed, take a position where you can make the necessary changes.

  • dollibug Apr 10, 2013

    For those of you who *think or feel* Brad Cooper is, no doubt, have ever been *accused* of something you did not do or even experience anything close to this. In February of this year-my daughter turned herself in to the sheriff's department multiple times for warrants accusing her of different crimes. She did NOTHING. A judge provided some lunatic with a 50 B protection order against my daughter, who only went to school with him many years ago. 50 B Domestic Violence Protection Orders are supposed to be ONLY for people who are in or have been in some sort of *relationship*. Someone needs to refresh *JUDGES* on this law and then the Judges need to make sure that what they are being told is TRUE. A HUGE MISTAKE WAS MADE and when the 50B was approved the judge gave the lunatic a *ticket* to have my daughter arrested multiple times. IT WILL NOW BE INTERESTING TO SEE WHAT THE JUDGE WILL DO ABOUT ALL OF THIS WHEN THE TRUTH IS REVEALED. Mistakes are made all the time.