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Witness: Social services failed Cooper growing up

Posted April 12, 2010
Updated April 13, 2010

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— Social workers investigating abuse in the childhood home of Samuel James Cooper failed to intervene to stop the abuse, a defense witness testified Monday in the 18th day of Cooper's capital murder trial.

"This was a disaster. This was just an egregious overlooking of their duty to protect Sammy, to protect this family," said Daniel Beerman, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Ray Cooper Childhood abuse focus of Cooper's defense

Last week, a jury found Cooper guilty on five counts of first-degree murder in a series of fatal shootings in 2006 and 2007.

Defense attorneys trying to spare him from the death penalty say Cooper was not in a normal state of mind at the time of the crimes because he is the product of an abusive upbringing in which his father severely beat him and his siblings several times a week.

By the time social services got involved, Cooper was no longer living at the home and did not have the same opportunity for counseling that his siblings had, defense attorneys argue.

Beerman said that social workers investigated the home on multiple occasions over a period of years, but never took any actions that could have minimized the damage the abuse might have caused and never considered removing the children from the home.

"They lost a tremendous opportunity to have some impact on the children and begin some process where there might be some healing and a positive direction for the family," he said.

Beerman said it was likely that the children and Cooper's mother minimized the extent of the abuse whenever they did admit it to officials because of "an informal rule" to keep quiet or else face the consequences.

"The people in the family who are supposed to protect you are your parents," Beerman said. "What the children end up doing is being in the role of protecting their parents against the secret. They're also protecting themselves, (thinking) 'If I spill the beans on my parents, something bad is going to happen.'"

Jurors also heard from Cooper's younger brother, Ray Cooper, who, like several other family members, recounted years of abuse at their father's hands.

"It was hell growing up. Most kids look at home as a place of relief," he said. "For us, home was the last place we wanted to go."

Ray Cooper said he referred to himself and his brother as "the broomstick boys,” because they were often beaten with a broomstick.

He and his other siblings would also have to sit and watch their brother and each other get beaten with a belt while their father sang to them "Blue Suede Shoes." If they cried, they too were beaten, he said.

"You want to cry, I'll give you something to cry about," Ray Cooper recalled his father saying.

Prosecutors don't deny abuse in the Cooper home but believe it has been exaggerated by family members because Samuel Cooper is facing the death penalty.

They argue that the defendant was not delusional at the time of the shootings and that he was calculated and deliberate in the crimes.

They questioned Ray Cooper about his motives for testifying, pointing out that he decided to do so only after watching his mother's and sister's earlier testimony on the Internet.

Ray Cooper said that, despite interviews with social workers when he was a child, he was telling the truth Monday. He was scared of his father back then and what he might have done if he told the truth, he said.

"I think there were a lot of people that knew things were going on and didn't help us, and they just chose not to," Ray Cooper said. "They chose to just turn away from it. I'm talking about friends, family, social services. They just picked us up and dropped us back down and left us there."

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  • Tarheelfan13 Apr 13, 2010

    brassy said: " Cue the violins"

    I second that motion.

  • ladyblue Apr 13, 2010

    I also think the argue the defense is trying to use to not sentence him to death is the reason he needs to be sentence to death. Even they are saying he's violent and his childhood made him that way so that means if he's put into general population he will probably hurt kill another person inside the jail. It could just be one of the guards working with him. Not one time has this man shown any true remorse which tell me that he has no conscience in him.

  • brassy Apr 13, 2010

    Cue the violins.

  • busyb97 Apr 13, 2010

    No excuse for murder! Period.

  • ladyblue Apr 13, 2010

    actually, the problem is that he doesn't know right from wrong, thats precisely the problem. lineofduty

    I dont' buy that. IMO, if you can function on earth then you know right from wrong. He knew enough to do it several times before getting caught. No he knew the difference, He just didn't care. the problem is they don't care about rules. they make them up as they go. Sure being abused is bad for any kid but again. Even a five year old knows right from wrong with things they shouldn't be doing. My autistic great niece knows right from wrong.

    Until society stops making excuses for the parents and starts holding them responsible for the babies they bring into the world and who help create these monsters this will continue on.

  • bombayrunner Apr 13, 2010

    bull city girl ... actually, the problem is that he doesn't know right from wrong, thats precisely the problem. But it is no excuse for his actions. Get almost any inmate with their hand in the cookie jar and they will tell you it ain't and pass a lie detector test doing it. this is the truth and the problem with most criminals ... that and a low IQ.

  • bombayrunner Apr 13, 2010

    This guy was not taught right from wrong and will never know it at his age ... thus the dregs of society. Not knowing unfortunately is not an excuse -- poor soul belongs in a cage now, maybe worse. Result of bad parenting? probably who knows, unfortunately they are not on trial but maybe should be to find out.

  • poeticallycorrect-InvNo1 Apr 13, 2010

    I am so sick and tired of people committing crimes and then trying to blame it on their childhood. Lots of people were abused, physically, mentally, and sexually as a child and it didnt make them go out and kill people

  • G-man Apr 13, 2010

    Maybe some people just shouldn't be allowed to reproduce.

  • sky pilot Apr 13, 2010

    "It's not my fault"

    Tell that to the executioner......

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