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Samuel Cooper's confession focus of testimony

Posted March 16, 2010

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— Samuel James Cooper's confession to fatally shooting five men and the methods investigators used to get it were the focus of a second day of testimony in what's expected to be a long capital murder trial.

Cooper, 33, is on trial facing five first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Ossama "Sam" Haj-Hussein, LeRoy Jernigan, Timothy Barnwell, Ricky High and Tariq Hussain – all were killed during a period spanning more than a year in 2006 and 2007.

Garner police arrested Cooper Nov. 21, 2007, following a bank robbery and a subsequent police chase that captured the attention of Raleigh police investigators working the slayings at the time.

Sgt. Kevin Carswell, a supervisor with one of the Raleigh Police Department's homicide squads, testified Tuesday afternoon that investigators at the time had few leads in High's Oct. 12, 2007, shooting and that of Hussain's two days later.

Cooper, they said, matched the general description of a suspect in the cases and that they immediately became interested in the Garner robbery when they learned police recovered a 9 mm Ruger handgun that Cooper dropped during an attempt to flee police.

A preliminary analysis of the gun on Nov. 22 connected the weapon to all five cases, Carswell testified.

"It kind of took me back for a second," he said. "I wanted to be sure. I said, 'Are you 100 percent sure that these are connected?'"

Carswell immediately notified his supervisor, he said, and started alerting detectives looking at Haj-Hussein's May 12, 2006, death, Jernigan's June 3, 2006, death and Barnwell's April 27, 2007, death.

Retired Raleigh police homicide investigator George Passley, who was the lead detective at the time in High's case, also testified Tuesday about trying to interview Cooper four times about the cases.

It wasn't until Nov. 26, five days after the bank robbery, that Cooper agreed to talk about them.

By that time, police had already arrested and charged Cooper's father, Samuel James Cooper Sr. with possession of a weapon by a felon, Passley said. Cooper agreed to talk about the shootings if his father was released and the charge dropped.

Defense attorneys questioned Passley at length about the timing and circumstances surrounding the elder Cooper's arrest. During a pre-trial hearing last year, they sought to have Cooper's confession suppressed, saying he was coerced into admitting to the crimes.

Passley said investigators searching the Cooper home found a .380 automatic Cole pistol that belonged to the younger Cooper that his father had hidden – grounds for a charge.

But an arrest wasn't made until two days later after Samuel Cooper Jr. became concerned about what would happen to his father. He saw his father taken into custody and asked to speak for a fifth time to Passley.

"Samuel James Cooper said, 'I'll tell you everything, just let Dad go,'" Passley testified.

What ultimately followed in the early hours of Nov. 26 was a six-hour interview in which Cooper confessed in detail to the homicides, confessed to at least 17 other robberies and admitted to robbing businesses and banks "to make money."

Jurors heard an hourlong except of that interview Tuesday. (Read the transcript.)

"He said that he wasn't into street stick-ups or carjackings," Passley said, adding that Cooper said he only targeted places where he thought there was money.

Robbery, prosecutors have said, was Cooper's motive in four of the five slayings.

Defense attorneys pointed out that Cooper committed other robberies and that not all of them ended in death. Cooper had told police that he tried to stay calm during robberies and that shooting his victims wasn't his intent.

When asked about Barnwell – prosecutors say Cooper handcuffed and hogtied him while searching his apartment for money and drugs, then shot him after he managed to jump over his second-floor balcony – Cooper said he only shot him when he tried to get away.

"He said his instinct kicked in," Passley said. "So, he shot him."

Passley said Cooper admitted to going to his car, getting a towel and then returning to clean off fingerprints inside Barnwell's apartment. He also removed the cuffs from his hands, then left.

The defense has admitted that Cooper committed the crimes but said the issue in the case is whether he acted with premeditation and deliberation.

In opening statements Monday, defense attorney Stephen Freedman said Cooper suffers from a diminished capacity from years of physical abuse at his father's hands, which affects his ability to think clearly, particularly in moments of stress. (Read more about opening statements in the trial.)

On redirect Tuesday, prosecutors asked Passley about Cooper's demeanor during the confession.

Cooper, he said, would sometimes laugh before he would answer a question.

"He was very relaxed. The conversation was as we're talking now – a very normal tone," Passley said. "There was no stress between me and Sam. Very civil."


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  • clintoflannagan Mar 17, 2010

    If it's any consolation for any of you the defense is not trying to "get this guy off" so he will be free to walk the streets. No matter what the jury finds he will not walk. At best (or worst depending on how you look at it) he will be confined to a high security mental institution for the rest of his life.

  • Kids Come First Mar 16, 2010


    If Cooper did these crimes because of his childhood abuse at the hands of his father, it seems quite odd that he would confess to these crimes in lieu of his father's release from jail. In my opinion, abuse at the level being described would lead to intense hatred of the abuser not loyalty. Cooper is a premeditated murderer, it is my hope that the families trauma does not continue any longer than it has to at the hand of this monster.

  • AnotherIgnoredComment Mar 16, 2010

    This will take forever to carry out. The families will have to go through the appeals, etc. Relive the deaths of their family members again and again. I say do away with the death penaly. Put them in a sound proof room w/ a toilet, shower, slide in some paper towels every now and then, some soup, let them rot. They took away someone from this earth, see how they like being removed from society with no interaction with anyone, alone for the rest of their life. If you feel like it, leave a rope in there, they will eventually carry out the sentence themselves.

  • whatusay Mar 16, 2010

    He says he killed Ricky, But he didn't know it was Ricky, he thought it was someone else. In his mind it would have been ok if it was anyone else but Ricky.

  • Dark_Horse Mar 16, 2010

    Sorry about the abuse, but you gotta fry for this dude.
    Lots of people have been abused, but that doesnt mean that they automatically become one man crime waves.

  • lncmomma15 Mar 16, 2010

    I am appalled at the defense attorneys trying to get him off because he was abused. I know one of the victims and his family. I was sick to my stomach to hear that he had been killed in the way that he had. Please let this man get what he deserves. Please let the residents of Raleigh have a peaceful night of sleep by knowing that this monster is off the streets. Please don't buy that I was abused garbage.

  • rbh330 Mar 16, 2010

    Abuse is not an excuse. But it can explain why a person's thoughts and actions are so twisted. I wish our legal system would treat abuse by a parent as the serious crime that it is instead of passing kids around the system and giving them back to the abusing parent(s). The results of abuse are all around us. We wouldn't tolerate a stranger abusing our kids. Why do tolerate it from a parent?

  • twc Mar 16, 2010

    I find myself wondering whose lives were saved by him being arrested.

    I hope some bleeding heart isn't on that jury.

  • zwm02 Mar 16, 2010

    So why didn't he whack the father?

  • SouthernLady05 Mar 16, 2010

    This defense is a joke. 1. Why if you were abused by your father for 17 years, would you agree to "talk" to detectives in order to get your felon father out of charges. I believe most true victims of abuse would have the abuser rot in prison. 2) Have any of these claims of abuse been founded? Has the father testified that he abused for 17 years? Has the level of abuse been stated? Of course I wouldn't believe anything his family members had to say.... have any of his teachers testified they believe he could have been abused? 3) If he was abused so badly, that commiting murder was "nothing" to him... why did he still have a relationship with his father? From what I recall, he was either living with them at the time of the murders.. or around them quite often.