Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

Crimes Without Passion

Posted November 28, 2007

Oftentimes, people refer to crimes where the suspect and victim know one another as "crimes of passion." 

This would include crimes of domestic violence – in other words, crimes motivated by the emotions surrounding the relationship between the people versus some other motivation like monetary gain. 

Victims' advocates, in particular, hate this characterization because somehow, they believe this label lessens the culpability of the suspect. 

But regardless of what you think about the phrase, there has to be a polar opposite.  This week, Wake County got its opposite – one suspect, five murders, no passion.

Samuel Cooper is charged with five counts of first-degree murder stemming from five separate shootings dating back to May 2006.  By way of contrast to what we think of as "crimes of passion," the crimes Cooper is accused of seem to have very little to do with passion and everything to do with minute personal gain. 

Three of the incidents happened at local businesses – two at convenience stores, and one restaurant.  The others happened in Raleigh neighborhoods.  In total, five men were killed.  At this point, there's no indication the suspect had any relationship with any of the victims or that they knew one another. 

It begs the question: Why would anyone kill someone for a few bucks?

Traditionally, when someone is accused of multiple murders, we look for something to explain it.  Otherwise, how could we, as a society, understand such reprehensible acts? 

We look for some mental illness or deviance from the norm that allows us to understand how someone can be responsible for horror. 

For example, when Drew Planten was arrested and charged with the rape, torture and murder of Stephanie Bennett several years ago, he was brought into court in a wheelchair in an apparent catatonic state. In interviews with people who knew him, words like "strange," "troubled" and "weird," were used to describe him.  He later killed himself in prison before the case ever went to trial.  All of these things allow us, as human beings, to create some sort of explanation for the tragedy.  "He was crazy," people would later say when talking about Planten.

But the Cooper case is different. 

In court, Cooper stood perfectly still, surrounded by officers, and answered the judge's questions with a simple "Yes, sir."  There was no drama, no outbursts, no signs of anything out of the norm. 

It was if he were being charged with a speeding ticket instead of five counts of murder.  His criminal record is long and violent , dating back to his teen years.  In an interview with the newspaper, his father says Cooper was beaten as a child.  But none of this goes far enough to help us, a community ,understand the tragic and senseless loss of life.

Maybe in the coming days, weeks and months, we'll learn more.  Clearly, the victims' families deserve some answers. And the rest of us could sure use some too.

About this Blog:

WRAL's Amanda Lamb offers a behind-the-scenes look at what TV news reporters do, the people they meet and how their jobs affect them.