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Selma woman pleads guilty in 80-year-old's beating death

Posted July 5, 2012

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— A Selma woman arrested nearly two years ago in the death of an 80-year-old man avoided a potential life prison sentence Thursday when she pleaded guilty to a charge less than first-degree murder.

Crystal Diane Worley entered an Alford plea to a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the June 6, 2010, death of James Eldridge Cooper.

In an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty, while maintaining her innocence, and admits it is in her best interest to take the plea deal because there is sufficient evidence that could find her guilty.

"I am now and will always maintain my innocence," Worley said in a statement she read in court."

Cooper had been beaten to death with a hatchet inside his home and robbed of $526 in cash and a ring worth an estimated $125, according to court documents.

A relative found his body three days later.

Worley, who was arrested in December 2010, knew Cooper and had done housework and yard work for him.

She has a criminal record dating to 2001 that includes multiple convictions for larceny and drug-related charges.

In exchange for the plea, a judge sentenced her to six to eight years in prison with credit for time served.

James E. "Tom" Cooper Woman pleads guilty in 80-year-old's beating death

Cooper's children did not want to talk about the plea deal but said in court that they were not happy about it.

"We were not able to tell him goodbye or 'I love you' one last time," Cooper's daughter, Stacey Franks said. "Please know that I do not agree with this plea."

But Johnston County Assistant District Attorney Paul Jackson said in a statement that the state's "difficult decision" to accept the plea deal had to do with the amount and quality of evidence if the case had gone to trial.

After killing and robbing Cooper, Jackson said, Worley left to buy crack cocaine.

A big part of evidence, he said, would be testimony of two drug dealers, and prosecutors were unsure how cooperative they would be and how a jury would view the evidence.

"The state had a duty to recognize that certain evidence uncovered by the very thorough and professional investigation would not be admissible and could not be considered by a jury at trial," Jackson said.

"Our system of justice places an extremely high burden on the state and the victims of crime," he added. "I hope this disposition will at least bring some closure to the family of the victim. My heart and prayers are with them."

42 Comments

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  • piene2 Jul 9, 2012

    "Let me get this straight. You’re worried that he might have gotten shot if he had tried to protect himself with a firearm? Welcome to bizarro world!!! Perhaps you didn’t read the story. The KNOWN outcome is that he is DEAD from being beat to death with a hatchet! The mere possibility of him having a chance to protect himself and LIVE sounds like a much better outcome.
    Lightfoot3"

    I think it is you who did not read my comment. Let me try to rephrase it. Perhaps some mental images might help you understand. Try to picture a frail eighty year old man mixing it up with a large beefy woman who appears to be no more than half his age. He is scrabbling around for his trusty six shooter, trying to get it out and if it were to go that far trying to get the safety off and aim it. Picture the large beefy, much younger woman simply taking the six shooter away from him and shooting his guts out. Now our lady has the money, the ring and the six shooter. Is this now in any way unclear to you?

  • jbengel Jul 6, 2012

    Case must have been pretty shaky to take THAT deal. But this is nothing new. Back in 1979 one of my coworkers was shot in the back during an armed robbery. His killer got 2 years for "involuntary manslaughter". According to the articles linked to this story, this isn't the first time this defendant has skated on a charge. Maybe if they'd paid more attention back then, we wouldn't have to have this conversation.

    But that's just this liberal's opinion.

  • Lightfoot3 Jul 6, 2012

    “before he managed to get to his trusty six shooter and even think of aiming it, the woman would have taken it away from him and shot his guts out. …They are a lot safer without a six shooter.” - piene2


    Let me get this straight. You’re worried that he might have gotten shot if he had tried to protect himself with a firearm? Welcome to bizarro world!!! Perhaps you didn’t read the story. The KNOWN outcome is that he is DEAD from being beat to death with a hatchet! The mere possibility of him having a chance to protect himself and LIVE sounds like a much better outcome.

  • muggs Jul 5, 2012

    Must have had a weak case or a underqualified prosecutor,6 years seems like she about got off with nothing,might look into getting a better legal team that represents the victims.

  • threecats Jul 5, 2012

    this is an insult to those of us that loved and cared for Tom.
    We have waited 2 years for some kind of closure and justice and this is what we have received. more than sad .... a pathetic excuse for justice.

  • piene2 Jul 5, 2012

    "Had this elderly woman had the ability to excercise her 2nd Ammendment RIGHT this story may have ended differently...the scary thing about this is that there are lots of people like this out there.
    Tired Of Excuses"

    First of all the elderly woman was a man. Secondly, before he managed to get to his trusty six shooter and even think of aiming it, the woman would have taken it away from him and shot his guts out. That is about what would happen to most of the Yahoos who are running around packing six shooters. They just provide the criminal with a better weapon to use on them and, of course to use in future crimes. They are a lot safer without a six shooter.

  • joannespann Jul 5, 2012

    This is very sad. Mr. Cooper's family is in my prayers. Ms Worley you beat an 80 year old man for a few dollars and a ring. How can you be this mean a miserable?

  • sarahfoor2009 Jul 5, 2012

    this makes me cry.:(

  • shortcake53 Jul 5, 2012

    This excuse for a human being needs to be locked away for life. She deliberatly killed this poor man to steal his stuff and tried to sell it. We dont need people like her walking around with the rest of us. I have seen people accused of hurting animals get more time than she got. Sickening.

  • paddie Jul 5, 2012

    Once again....no justice for the victim or family.

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