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Samuel Cooper trial on hold until Friday

Posted March 17, 2010
Updated March 18, 2010

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— The murder trial has been put on hold for a Raleigh man accused of killing five men in a string of robberies spanning more than a year.

A third day of testimony was expected Wednesday in the trial of Samuel James Cooper, but defense attorney Lisa Miles got sick, prompting Superior Court Judge Henry Hight to recess proceedings until at least Friday morning.

"Life happens, and you have to accommodate it the best that you can," he told jurors before dismissing them Wednesday morning.

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.

If convicted, Cooper could face the death penalty.

Tuesday's testimony focused on Cooper's confession to investigators and the arrest of his father on a possession of a weapon by a felon charge that was dismissed when Cooper agreed to talk about the crimes. (Read more about what happened in court Tuesday.)

Jurors heard an hour-long audio recording of a Nov. 26, 2007, interview in which Cooper talked about the crimes and admitted to shooting the victims.

All except High's death on Oct. 12, 2007, were committed during robberies, he tells investigators in the recording.

"Ricky was a mistake," he says. "'Cause it was supposed to been some Blood (gang) dude that got shot … Ricky just happened to be there at the time when the shooting started."

That was Cooper's fifth interview with Raleigh police detectives, retired homicide investigator George Passley testified.

Defense attorneys – who unsuccessfully sought to have the confession suppressed, arguing it was coerced – questioned Passley at length about the timing and circumstances surrounding Cooper's father's arrest.

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

In the case of Haj-Hussein on May 12, 2006, Cooper told investigators he shot him when he started walking to the back of the In & Out store on Creech Road.

"I don't know what he was walking towards the back for. I mean, I ain't get that. I ain't really ask him," he says in the interview played in court. "The guy got shot."

In Barnwell's April 27, 2007, death – 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.

"My instinct just kicked in," Cooper says in the interview. "Instinct said, 'You just might, he gonna alert them before you can get up out of here. You gotta, you know, shoot at him.'"

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

His attorneys say that he has 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.

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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  • Eduardo1 Mar 17, 2010

    First of all, how do we know that he was abused?
    When we abuse an animal, (who can not think like a human) and it goes out and kills a child(or adult) we destroy this animal, abuse is no reason for the animal to be saved. Why do we give any special treatment to a "human" who SAYS that they were abuse as a young person. Grows older, goes outs robs, MURDERS, etc any special consideration for the "so-called-abuse"
    Me & my 5 siblings were abused as children, and the biggest blot that any of us have might be a speeding ticket. We all went to night college, while working during the day, raised 13 children between us and now have 16 grandchildren. All 3 generations have have no criminal charges against us

  • babbleon Mar 17, 2010

    At some point, you have to take responsibility for your actions. It seems clear he did the crimes.

  • BobbiAngel Mar 17, 2010

    Why would we (the tax payers) want for him to grow old in prison? He will clearly have a better life in prison than he did on the "outside". Three meals per day, a roof over his head, a bed to sleep on, healthcare and several other regulated activities. Why does he deserve that? and why should we have to fund it? besides, if he were to sit in prison, he would have multiple opportunities to appeal - once again putting our tax money to work. he's a murderer -he shouldn't be given gifts.

  • sillywabbitthepatriot Mar 17, 2010

    Past abuse does not give anyone an excuse to murder innocent people. I have NO pity for him. He was in complete control when he pulled the trigger each time. If anything, suffering from abuse should make one more compassionate and prevent them from abusing others because they already know the pain it can cause.

  • wildcat Mar 17, 2010

    Life in prison without parole would be better served. Killing him would not be an option. Allow his to die old in prison and never to walk the streets ever again.

  • Jeff_W Mar 17, 2010

    The 'diminished capacity' argument is not to get him off for the murders. His defense atty is grasping at straws trying to keep the needle outta Sam's arm. Either way, society is much improved with this 'fine citizen' off the street. I have my opinion as to where he belongs, but I am sure the GOLO gods will block my post if I say it.

  • danielle3018 Mar 17, 2010

    Let him rot in jail he murdered 5 innocent people! just because he was abused doesnt mean he should get away with murder im so sick of hearing oh there mentally unstable they were abused BLAH BLAH bottom line he is a MURDERER! what else is there to discuss