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Psychiatrist testifies in Cooper murder trial

Posted March 30, 2010

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— A forensic psychiatrist testifying Tuesday in the capital murder trial of Samuel James Cooper said the child abuse the defendant suffered at the hands of his father was "ritualistic, sadistic and bizarre" and left him with two mental disorders that could explain why he killed five men.

"When you start looking at some of the characteristics of abuse that occurred in the Cooper household, I've got to tell you, that this is pretty remarkable," George Corvin said.

Cooper's sisters and mother testified Monday to the years of abuse, in which they said Cooper was beaten several times a week, often while his mother and siblings watched helplessly. (Read more about their testimony.)

His father would often beat the children while singing songs, like "Blue Suede Shoes," and have them watch. If they reacted in any way, they would also be beaten, they testified.

"There's some uniquely damaging aspects to the abuse that everybody in that family has described," Corvin said. "It's almost as if – and I'm not suggesting that Mr. Cooper Sr. realized this – that if you want to design a regimen of abuse to do maximum damage to a boy or girl, he did it."

Cooper, 33, is on trial for five counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of
Ossama Haj-Hussein, 43; LeRoy Jernigan, 41; Timothy Barnwell, 34; Ricky High, 48; and Tariq Hussain, 52, over a 17-month period in 2006 and 2007.

Defense attorneys haven't denied that their client is responsible for the killings but have said that his mental condition at the time of the shootings was diminished based on years of his father beating him.

Corvin testified that the years of abuse resulted in Cooper developing complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which can be characterized by anger, isolation and a reluctance to trust others, as well as being preoccupied with the relationship to the abuser – either by taking on a protective role or seeking revenge.

In Cooper's case, that role was that of a protector, Corvin testified.

When police arrested Cooper's father on a charge of possession of a weapon by a felon prior to Cooper's Nov. 26, 2007, confession to police, he did anything he could to negotiate his father's release, Corvin said.

"That's a perfect example why you see individuals act in ways other than you expect. Mr. Cooper, for lack of a better term, sacrificed himself to get his father out of jail," he said.

Cooper also suffers from dissociative disorder, Corvin said, which could also help explain some of his actions at the times of the shootings. His memory of the crimes was sometimes inconsistent with witness statements and he sometimes couldn't understand why he did what he did.

Individually, Corvin said, the statements he made might not have meant much, but collectively, they showed a pattern consistent with dissociation, in which a person acts without full awareness of what he's doing.

"Dissociation isn't either you have it or you don't," he said. "It happens over a continuum."

In presenting its evidence, the state has painted Cooper as a calculated robber who never expressed remorse for the killings and knew exactly what he was doing at the time of the crimes.

He confessed to more than a dozen other robberies in which no one was shot or killed, they argued, and he exercised restraint in other areas of his life where conflicts existed.

But Corvin said Cooper usually tried to present himself as someone who was always in control and aware of what he was doing, even though the results of multiple examinations showed otherwise.

"It isn't that he doesn't possess emotions," Corvin said, adding that Cooper can't manage and cope with them effectively.

Even though he admitted to other robberies without incident, something in the five murder cases was different from the rest, he said.

"Something happened that was beyond his control, something that for whatever reason, with his state of mind, was stressful and spiraling out of control for him," Corvin said.

"Mr. Cooper has lived with one skill set for his entire life, which is if there is a problem, if you encounter difficulties, you either react as violently as necessary to remove your self from the situation, or whoever is causing you the problem will likely do the same to you," he said. "Period. End of story."


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  • zwm02 Mar 31, 2010

    First of all, let me say that I am against the death penalty. I have been involved in a dozen professionally and not once did I ever get a sense of satisfaction or justice done, regardless of the circumstances of the crime. Second, it always appears there is a small coterie of mental health professionals that always find some reason to argue their client was in some way removed from complete culpability for the defendant's actions. I would like to know exactly how much they are paid, by the taxpayer in almost every case, to offer their professional opinions. If people realized just how much taxpayer money would be saved, in trial costs, external defende and expert witnesses (each person facing the death penalty gets two attorneys, a mitigation specialist, and most likely a private investigator, along with the expert witnesses), they might have second thoughts of exacting their "eye for an eye" demands.

  • manofjustice Mar 31, 2010

    People react differently to their situations. This man did a terrible and heinous thing but we must forgive him. We can not harbor hatred towards this man. He can not take back what he did. We must learn to love no matter what. We must place this man in our hearts and embrace him, no matter how hard or crazy that may seem to you. We must pray for his soul.

  • If the shoe fits.... Mar 30, 2010

    Quoting luvbailey: "BUT if all this abuse and the effect it had is really true, I don't see how anyone could advocate the death penalty for this man."

    In a heartbeat I'd advocate death penalty! How many others (of us) have been abused but still have a conscience/don't murder?

  • luvbailey Mar 30, 2010

    No one is suggesting this man will ever walk free again. This is only about whether or not he gets the death penalty. Since I am not in the courtroom to listen first hand - and since I haven't heard (or read) what the prosecution's expert will say about his mental state, I will reserve final opinion. BUT if all this abuse and the effect it had is really true, I don't see how anyone could advocate the death penalty for this man.

  • treki70 Mar 30, 2010

    LeRoy (RIP)Was,WAS a friend of my family!!!

  • thejesus Mar 30, 2010

    Wait a second, didn't this guy was trying to have his confession suppress because they use his father to make him confess (according to him)? I thought he spilled his guts when he foundout that daddy was getting charged for something that belonged to him? So now daddy was a monster.

  • sillywabbitthepatriot Mar 30, 2010

    Michael Jackson was physically and mentally abused as a child.
    He didn't kill anyone. Molestation accusations aside, he held the Guiness Book of World Records for charitable contributions.

    Cooper murdered not just 1 person, he murdered 5 in cold blood for financial gain.

    Send him to death row.

  • f6rider Mar 30, 2010

    Poor fellow, he was abused as a child. Let's just give him a get out of jail free pass, what do you think people?

  • Maddie girl Mar 30, 2010

    Execute, the sooner the better !!!!!!!!!!!

  • Whatthehey Mar 30, 2010

    WRAL spells the forensic expert "Corvin" in one place (remarkable," George Corvin said.) and "Covin" (Cooper listens as forensic psychologist Dr. George Covin testifies) in another. George Covin is listed on the web as a PSYCHIATRIST, an M.D., NOT a PSYCHOLOGIST, Ph.D. Either way, he's the defense's witness and it will be interesting to read what the prosecution's expert witness says, or what the ADA gets when he cross examines Dr. Covin or Corvin. I haven't heard of any POW's returning to the US after being tortured and killing people during self-serving robberies. If childhood abuse became a "get-out-of-jail-free" excuse for committing crimes, the prison overcrowding problem would be quickly solved.