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Slaying focus of Cooper custody hearing; judge delays ruling

Posted October 16, 2008
Updated October 21, 2008

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— A judge says she needs more time to review evidence, including Web chats and a seven-hour taped deposition, in the legal dispute over who will have custody of the two young daughters of Brad Cooper and his slain wife, Nancy.

More than a dozen witnesses testified Thursday in an eight-hour hearing before Judge Debra Sasser in Wake County District Court, including Nancy Cooper's family, some of the couple's friends, two psychologists and a woman who says she saw Nancy Cooper jogging the morning she disappeared.

Brad Cooper, who has come under scrutiny in his wife's death but is not accused, did not testify.

"I find it incredulous that Brad Cooper didn't take the stand," said Alice Stubbs, an attorney representing Nancy Cooper's parents, Garry and Donna Rentz, and twin sister, Krista Lister. "You need to hear from the father. We didn't hear from a single relative. I don't get it."

Bella, 4, and Katie, 2, have been under Lister's care in Canada since Sasser awarded emergency custody to her and her parents in July, two days after Nancy Cooper was found strangled in an undeveloped subdivision three miles from her Cary home.

The Rentzes and Lister claim Brad Cooper is an unfit parent who was emotionally abusive to and financially controlling of his wife in the months before her death.

They testified they believe he was involved in her slaying and that he should not be allowed to care for the couple's two young daughters.

"I feel like Brad has murdered my sister, and I deem it extremely inappropriate for the girls to be around him," Lister said.

She also testified about her concerns for her sister's safety during a visit to Cary in March. Other witnesses testified how Nancy Cooper told them that her husband's behavior had become controlling.

"Brad and Nancy's marriage was increasingly tense," testified Jessica Adam, the friend who reported her missing on July 12. "My understanding is that he had taken control of the finances, and she was extremely limited in her movements."

Another friend of Nancy Cooper's testified that the power and control issues prompted her to call Interact of Wake County, a nonprofit agency that helps victims of domestic violence.

But Brad Cooper's attorney, Deborah Sandlin, said the plaintiffs failed to meet the burden of showing that her client acted in violation of his parental rights.

Although several witnesses testified about the Coopers' troubled marriage – affairs by both, financial problems, heated arguments and how the couple was separating – no one said they ever saw Brad Cooper be physically violent with his wife.

"You don't have any information that Brad was violent toward Nancy?" Sandlin asked Nancy Cooper's father.

"No," Garry Rentz said.

Police have not named any suspects in Nancy Cooper's death, and Brad Cooper has maintained that he is innocent, that he last saw his wife the morning of July 12 before she went jogging and that when she never returned, he went looking for her.

But with the allegations that he was somehow involved and with police seeming to focus on him in their investigation, the issue is central to who will temporarily care for the girls.

Stubbs and attorney Wade Smith argued they have "substantial evidence" that he did kill his wife and that he will be charged with murder.

"The (Wake County District Attorney) Colon Willoughby train is coming," Smith said. "It may not be next year. It could be two years. But it's coming."

Also at issue during Thursday's hearing was Brad Cooper's mental health. The Rentzes and Lister claim that he is mentally unstable, that he tried to commit suicide when he was younger and that he threatened to kill himself earlier this year.

Dr. Jonathan Gould, a psychologist who testified on Brad Cooper's behalf, found him to be normal with no significant anger issues – but said when confronted with emotionally powerful experiences, he tends to withdraw.

"He's not a guy that is typically anger-based," Gould said. "But under current circumstances, he's feeling very frustrated."

Dr. James Hilkey, a forensic psychologist for the Rentzes and Lister, testified that he found Brad Cooper to be narcissistic and arrogant with anxiety and anger issues.

"He can keep it in check, but when it does manifest itself, it is usually directed at family members," Hilkey said. "My opinion is that this is a longstanding anger that has been with him for a fair amount of time."

Also testifying Thursday was Rosemary Zednick, a woman who says she was walking her dog on July 12 when she saw Nancy Cooper jogging. The two made eye contact and spoke, she said.

"I saw that gal," Zednick said, adding that she contacted Cary police up to nine times but never heard from investigators.

"All I said to the police was 'I don't want Nancy Grace on my doorstep,'" she said.

Zednick said that after three months of not hearing from  detectives, she went to Brad Cooper's attorneys, who sent an investigator to interview her.

Witnesses also testified to Brad Cooper's character as a father. Mike Hiller, who was supposed to play tennis with him on July 12 said Bella and Katie love their dad and seem normal.

"I never saw him do anything bad to the kids or anything inappropriate to the kids," he said.

During closing arguments, Sandlin admitted her client was not there for the children all the time due to work but said he was a good father.

”I have not heard any evidence that Mr. Cooper had anything to do with his wife’s death," she said. "These children need to be with their father. These children have an attachment to their father."

Sasser could rule as early as Monday.

During a motions hearing last month, Sasser said that if no one were charged in murder case prior to her ruling, she would have to consider the allegations in her decision, a critical factor in deciding whether the children would be safe.

"The elephant that sits in the room is that if there is evidence that Mr. Cooper is in any way responsible for his wife's death, that's certainly relevant in the custody case," she has said.


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  • bradcooperisinnocent Oct 20, 2008

    I don't know how we haven't seen this interview by now:


  • Proud Young Grandma Oct 17, 2008

    I know people who jog and most women have at one point or another seen someone that made them feel uncomfortable. When you are out jogging, and are dressed as such, you really don't draw attention to yourself. So, many men (or women) could be potential murderers, rapists or kidnappers. Many a person has been raped, murdered or assaulted while jogging, so random doesn't seem like such a stretch to me. But, I don't live in Cary anymore - and I know they don't want to believe anything like that can happen there - but it can, and has, and will again at some point in the future. Wherever humans live, there is potential for violence, no matter the income/status level of the people living there.

  • valleyGirl Oct 17, 2008

    I must wonder, detectives must establish if a suspect has motive, opportunity (or alibi) and weapon which when cross-referenced shows that Brad Cooper, for one qualifies. With the exception of motive anyone in the area during the timeframe that death could have occurred (??) would also be suspect. Are there no others?

  • Proud Young Grandma Oct 17, 2008

    I believe i read earlier this week that the children were here with their aunt and grandparents. Not sure where they are staying. Probably with the judge or Alice Stubbs!! LOL


  • not today2008 Oct 17, 2008

    Question for those of you in know, where are the children now, are they in country or still in Canada. I am wondering if the judge rules for BC if the Listers will run with the children or even return them.

  • chauncey7381 Oct 17, 2008

    +++If he is not arrested soon, the children should be returned to him promptly. As venomous as Krista is in the media, I have a hard time believing that is not bleeding over to the children. If the evidence is so overwhelming and compelling, arrest him on suspicion, I think all of us fence sitters are waiting to see this substan. compelling. overwhelming evidence.

    My thoughts precisely. However, I don't think Sasser is waiting to see if CPD will make a move. I believe she is being thorough in her decision and reviewing all of the affidavits, claims, testimony, all matters are being taken into consideration from both sides.

  • momofthree Oct 17, 2008

    What is taking so long to convict Brad? Either convict him or move on to find the killer and if there is no proof give him his kids back. I mean really, if he didn't do it, then there is a killer on the loose in Cary! From what I have read, it sure seems like he is guilty, so get on with it!

  • chauncey7381 Oct 17, 2008

    +++But, Nancy felt comfortable enough to go out and about, and often, and leave the girls with their father.

    Yes, she did. She went back to the neighborhood soiree after she and Brad Cooper took the kids home, the night before she went missing.

    After yesterday I'm fairly certain the Judge will rule in favor of Brad Cooper. Nothing came out in the press yesterday indicating he's unfit. I certainly missed the incriminating substantial evidence. Krista Lister showed her true colors on the stand.

  • Citizen7265 Oct 17, 2008

    jmflu wrote: bradcooperisinnocent... didn't you just join? How would you know whether I have ever told anyone who I really am? How would you know anything about how I feel about anyone other than you? Hmmmm...

    Come on, jmflu, many people read frequently and post only once in a while. You would be surprised at the discussions people hold about the GOLO groupies. Many of those discussing read and observe, but rarely post. In fact there are people who read and "profile" the posters in an attempt to discover their identities.

  • Proud Young Grandma Oct 17, 2008

    not the arrest part, but if there is evidence, substantial evidence at that, then name him a person of interest or give him his kids back. His rights are being voilated as it is. If it makes people feel better, then have someone there to supervise him with them. But, Nancy felt comfortable enough to go out and about, and often, and leave the girls with their father. Apparently he was a good father to them when she was alive, just because she is dead doesn't mean his ability as a father has suffered. If that was the case, any widower would lose the children.