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Court denies media appeal on Nancy Cooper search warrants

Posted October 6, 2009

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— The North Carolina Court of Appeals has sided with a lower court's decision to keep sealed three search warrants in the Nancy Cooper murder case.

The warrants were eventually unsealed last year but not before Capitol Broadcasting Co., WRAL News' parent company, and the News & Observer Publishing Co., requested that the warrants be made public.

A Superior Court denied the request on Aug. 25, 2008, and the media outlets appealed the ruling, arguing that the Wake County district attorney did not make an adequate case for sealing the warrants.

Prosecutors argued that making information in the warrants public could hurt the case.

Amanda Martin, an attorney representing Capitol Broadcasting and the News & Observer, argued it was the state's burden to prove why the integrity of the investigation could not be protected any other way.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens said in sealing the warrants that he needs to balance all interests in the case.

Even though the warrants were unsealed, both media outlets are pursuing the case to get a legal precedent for more specific guidelines regarding the sealing of warrants.

"The (Court of Appeals) decision is disappointing and puzzling," attorney Hugh Stevens said. "The panel apparently agreed with and accepted our arguments concerning the procedures that judges must follow and the legal standards they must apply in deciding whether to seal search warrants, but wholly failed to apply those procedures and standards to the facts in this case."

Cooper, 34, was found dead in an undeveloped subdivision just outside Cary’s town limit on July 14, two days after a friend reported her missing. Her husband, Brad Cooper, was charged last October with first-degree murder.

The documents at the subject of the appeal allowed police to search the home and vehicles of the Coopers, as well as to obtain DNA samples from Brad Cooper. The third was for Brad Cooper's office at Cisco Systems in Research Triangle Park. The third was for an undisclosed location.

Search warrants are generally of interest because they include affidavits in which investigators explain to the court why they believe the warrant is justified, possibly including their theories of a case or explaining why a named person is being targeted for the search.

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  • vanative70 Oct 6, 2009

    Sealing the warrants from the media does not violate the Fourth Amendment Gork. The defense has access to the warrants and all conditions of the warrants therein. It is the media that wants access, and the media is NOT protected by the Fourth Amendment, nor should they be. If the warrants were not based in probable cause, the defense will argue that and attempt to have all evidence from those warrants supressed.

  • seankelly15 Oct 6, 2009

    cameragirl & whocares - the warrants are no longer sealed; they were unsealed last year. This appeal was intended to test the legality of originally sealing the warrants. As the article notes, the warrants were unsealed before the media filed the appeal.

  • MillerB Oct 6, 2009

    The media outlets could care less about anyone's guilt or innocence. They want the story, period, end of discussion.

  • my_two_sense Oct 6, 2009

    Cameragirl, I do believe Brad's attorneys will be privy to the information contained in the warrants so they "can get him off", it is called disclosure. This case has a lynch mob feel to it, I almost feel sorry for Cooper, and am on the fence as to his guilt. I have read the articles concerning the evidence and have had people screaming at me about the evidence, but it really appears to me the evidence is sealed at this point, maybe the people telling me how guilty he is are also privy to the evidence we are not allowed to know about.

  • Gork Oct 6, 2009

    well that's all fine, but, originally, the thought was, if you have valid evidence regarding someone's connection to a crime, you didn't need to keep it a secret, it would stand on it's own.

    The Constitution states that, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
    It's called the 4th amendment, which makes it part of the Bill of Rights. And as we all know, each of the ten amendments comprising the Bill of Rights describe individual rights, accorded to all citizens, which cannot be abrogated by the State because they were specifically enacted to protect us from the State, as a pre-condition for ratification of the Constitution.

    If they're secret, we are not protected from the State.

  • cameragirl Oct 6, 2009

    After the trial then they should be released but not before. Does WRAL & the N&O want to see Brad go free? That is what it sounds like to me. Let's give away the store so that the brilliant lawyers of Brad's can get him off. People need to use common sense when they want all the gory details. After a suspect is tried and convicted should the document be released.

  • whocares Oct 6, 2009

    Thank goodness. I hope they stay sealed so that the case, when it comes to trial, can be tried by an unbiased jury.

  • Gork Oct 6, 2009

    Wow, I'm so old I can remember when search warrants weren't police secrets!