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Murder suspect told investigators shooting was 'mistake'

Posted March 24, 2010
Updated March 25, 2010

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— Prosecutors continued to lay out their case Wednesday in the trial of Samuel James Cooper, a Raleigh man facing the death penalty on five first-degree murder charges.

The state called several witnesses to testify about the shooting death of Ricky High, a homeless man who was shot multiple times in the arm and back on a street near St. Augustine's College in the early-morning hours of Oct. 12, 2007.

Aaron Graham Witness recalls High's shooting

Prosecutors have said the two men knew each other but that High, 48, was an unintended target in an argument between Cooper and a group of suspected gang members.

A street friend of High, Aaron Graham, testified that he saw High and two other men talking on the street around 1 a.m. when another man walked up from behind them and started shooting.

The two other men ran away, leaving High behind with the shooter, Graham told jurors.

"He turned to Rick and said, 'You got something to say about it?' Rick said, 'No, no,'" he said.

High ran off, and the shooter followed, shooting until he hit High, causing him to fall.

"He stood over Rick and shot him again," Graham said. "I walked slowly. I didn't want to attract too much attention from the shooter."

Renee McClain, who knew High as a family friend and referred to him as "Uncle Ricky," testified to seeing a man dressed in black running out of nearby bushes a short time after the shooting along a path to a car.

Although she couldn't tell what he looked like, she said, the man took off his gloves, got in the car, sat there for about two minutes and then drove off.

Neither witness identified Cooper, 33, as the culprit, but in an audio interview, jurors heard him confess to High's shooting, saying it was "a mistake."

Defense attorneys don't deny that Cooper killed the five men but have said the issue in the trial is whether he acted with premeditation and deliberation.

They have said the answer is directly linked to his mental condition, claiming he suffers from a diminished capacity stemming from years of physical abuse at the hands of his father.

Prosecutors could finish presenting their case next week.

Jurors have already heard evidence about three of the other four shootings – Ossama Haj-Hussain, 43, on May 12, 2006; LeRoy Jernigan, 41, on June 3, 2006; and Timothy Barnwell, 34, on April 27, 2007.

Cooper is also accused of killing Tariq Hussain, 52, on Oct. 14, 2007.

Police arrested him in November 2007 on a bank robbery charge and subsequently connected him to the deaths through a gun he dropped while fleeing police, investigators have testified.

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  • jet2rdu Mar 25, 2010

    Toby Keith has lyrics that make sense about perps like Samuel James Cooper.
    "We got too many gangsters doing dirty deeds
    We've got too much corruption, too much crime in the streets
    It's time the long arm of the law put a few more in the ground
    Send 'em all to their maker and he'll settle 'em down
    You can bet he'll set 'em down."

  • manofjustice Mar 25, 2010

    My goodness. How can you form your mouth to say "mistake" when somebody was shot? I do declare. A mistake is when you are drunk driving around 1am to go get some cigarettes because you can't drink Tequila without a good Newport and you have on your pajamas and slippers and you get caught by the police for drunk driving and when you go to jail you notice there is a hole in the back of your favorite comfortable pajamas and erbody in your jail cell is noticing it too. Now that is a simple mistake...not shooting somebody. Geesh.

  • mike28 Mar 25, 2010

    LeRoy Jernigan was a good friend of mine and he is severely missed by everyone that knew him. He was a VERY hard working man with a fantastic young family. Aside from owning vending machines and having a plumbing business, he also owned a company that serviced/cleaned grills at restaurants on weekly or monthly contracts. I spoke to him several hours before he went to clean at a restaurant and had plans to meet up with him the next morning. He was robbed that night and shot. One of his sons works at a local grocery store and I see him all the time. Just a horrible situation that NEVER should have happened.

    The evidence have lead to this man being charged. If he has admitted to the shootings, then he needs to pay. If our legal system lets him off with anything less than the death penalty, this would be a complete travesty. Honestly, I would rather go back to public hangings for scumbags such as this.

    We miss you LeRoy. See ya later.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Mar 25, 2010

    So you claim one death was a "mistake"?

    HOW ABOUT THE OTHER FOUR DEATHS???????? Are those mistakes also? LOL

  • crash2478 Mar 25, 2010

    What happened in the 2007 case. If someone had done their job the first time he would already on death row.

  • mike honcho Mar 25, 2010

    It was a mistake.....can I get a do over?

  • mebgirl1984 Mar 25, 2010

    Meh2, exactly right. A mistake? In his mind the mistake was getting caught, not the multiple counts of murder for which he now stands trial. Unbelievable.

  • garnertoy Mar 25, 2010

    He was up to no good anyway out that time of night

  • PJM Mar 25, 2010

    No shooting is a mistake when that person was on a shooting spree, one convience store after the next and the clerks fighting for their lives.....what in the world is going on here?
    Then....they are trying to say he is mentally challenged due to the abuse he received as a child....whoa is me....stop that excuse...there is not excuse of murdering someone because you got your behind whooped more than the normal discipline. What a loser he deserves to be on death row.......oh also heard he had the nerve to chuckle when speaking on a specific murder of a clerk, how awful!! Thats not mentally challenged, that is sick!!!!

  • meh2 Mar 24, 2010

    No, a mistake is putting on mismatched socks. Murder is a crime and needs to be punished as such.