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Murder suspect's mental defense questioned

Posted March 31, 2010
Updated April 1, 2010

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— Prosecutors on Wednesday cross-examined a forensic psychiatrist about whether a man facing the death penalty knew what he was doing when he shot and killed several people over a 17-month period in 2006 and 2007.

Dr. George Corvin testified that Samuel James Cooper thought he had no other choice but to commit the offenses he's accused of because of post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative disorder stemming from years of physical abuse by his father.  (Read Corvin's forensic psychiatric evaluation of Cooper.)

Cooper, 33, faces five counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Ossama Haj-Hussein, 43; LeRoy Jernigan, 41; Timothy Barnwell, 34; Ricky High, 48; and Tariq Hussain, 52.

His defense team doesn't deny he killed the victims but says his mental state is the issue at trial. The state says Cooper was deliberate and that his actions were premeditated and calculated so that his victims could not identify him to police.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden on Wednesday presented a report from forensic psychiatrist Dr. Nicole Wolfe, an expert witness for the state, who found that although Cooper did have a mental disorder, there was no indication he suffered from anything that would cause him to "lose his ability to reason accurately" at the time of the crimes.

"These crimes were carried out very carefully," Corvin read from Wolfe's report. "There are numerous indicators of planning that Mr. Cooper knew the wrongfulness of his behaviors. Mr. Cooper went to great lengths to conceal the evidence that could link him to these crimes."

Corvin defended his findings, saying that Wolfe did not spend enough time with Cooper, whom he described as always wants to project that he's in control and knows what he's doing. She interviewed him once for three hours. Corvin said he spent 36 hours with the defendant over 17 occasions.

"It was not ideal. He's highly defended," Corvin said. "He's hiding his trauma history from her and minimizing it. He's hiding, or dodging answering questions about how vivid his ability to recall really is."

Corvin testified Tuesday that Cooper had difficulty remembering exactly why he did some of the things he confessed to police and that he was likely unaware of what he was doing when he killed his victims.

The diagnosed disorders coupled together, he said, can keep a person under stress from thinking clearly and can cause out-of-mind experiences that he or she might not remember later.

Witnesses said Cooper committed the crimes during a series of robberies, but defense attorneys pointed out he also committed to a dozen other robberies in which no one was ever harmed.

"Something different," had to happen during those five encounters to cause Cooper to feel like he were not in control of the situations, Corvin said, and Cooper reacted the only way he knew how.

"You don't have to be a psychiatrist to know this. If a guy is raised from three months of age being exposed to and taught violence, that is how you deal with life," he said Tuesday. "And you have the mindset that if you don’t, the guy facing you is going to react to you violently."


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  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Apr 1, 2010

    Mental? That's crazy(no pun intended). That's a slap in the face to truly mentally handicapped people. If this guy knows enough to wipe his own rear, he's not mental.

  • Whatever Geez Apr 1, 2010

    Psychiatrists only take your money and dope up people. I do not like them. If the man was so mental from abuse, why didn't he go after the person who created it? I get tired of the , I lived in the hood so life is all against me and I will never be anything because of it. As long as you think that way, then yes...you will never leave the hood. Quit making excuses!

  • ncguy Apr 1, 2010

    psychiatrist- they can be on either side of the equation.

    Now the state will bring there own in and he/she will dispute the findings of this guys, again on our dime.

  • wildcat Apr 1, 2010

    A criminal committs a crime, but will do anything to stay out of prison. Courts should be on top of this and not allow excuses of any kind.

  • wildcat Apr 1, 2010

    He was not mental when he killed. Stop using mental for an excuse. Life in prison without parole.

  • bgreen Apr 1, 2010

    As a 'defense expert witness' in a capital case, Corvin was paid by the state (AOC), in other words, you and I. He really ran the bill up on this one....36 hours of interviews in 17 visits. And that's a lot of travel time and expenses, too. He also gets paid by the day for testimony as well. This has nothing to do with legitimate or valid mental evaluation...it's just his racket, and he really stuck it to us!

  • coffeecup Apr 1, 2010

    "Witnesses said Cooper committed the crimes during a series of robberies, but defense attorneys pointed out he also committed to a dozen other robberies in which no one was ever harmed."

    Oh, why didn't they say so? This really changes things. He's obviously a very fine young man and should be released immediately with an apology from the prosecution for inconveniencing him so. Defense attornies have a way of pointing out what us quick-to-judgment types often miss.

  • mulecitybabe Apr 1, 2010

    Dr. Nicole Wolfe is one of the best forensic psychiatrists I've ever worked with and she has about 20 years or so of experience. It only took her 3 hours of talking with this criminal to see that he was rational and killing his victims to cover his tracks. I wonder who paid for the 30 some hours the defense psychiatrist wasted interviewing this con man?

  • rcrdngcountry Apr 1, 2010

    come on people, get off this child hood thing. if being raised
    rough would make you kill people, i would have had every one in
    the neighbor hood, killed by the time i was 12.get off this idea
    and see people for what they are, MEAN.

  • raggy831 Apr 1, 2010

    Yes he was beat as a child, but his father did not shoot him, sorry but I am tired of hearing that just because someone has a bad childhood they think they can kill others...I say give him what is due him, now rather than later.