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Cooper defense continues focus on childhood abuse

Posted April 13, 2010

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— Defense attorneys on Tuesday continued to focus on Samuel Cooper's abusive childhood, calling to testify an expert specializing in the long-term effects of men abused in childhood.

"Sammy Cooper is a very damaged individual and his childhood – the trauma and the abuse that he experienced in childhood – to me, very understandably led to the psychological and relational damage that he exhibits," clinical psychologist Matthew Mendel said.

Cooper, 33, was convicted last week of shooting and killing five men in a series of shootings in 2006 and 2007.

Defense attorneys argue that at the time of the crimes, their client was in a delusional state, absent of any emotions and did not understand the consequences of his actions because of years "bizarre and ritualized" abuse at the hands of his father.

The state, in presenting its case, has painted Cooper as a cold-blooded killer who knew his crimes were wrong, consciously chose to shoot his victims, then went to great lengths to hide evidence that could link him to the murders.

Supporting the findings of a forensic psychiatrist who testified earlier in the trial, Mendel testified that Cooper suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative order, which defense attorneys have argued were factors in the crimes.

"I'm completely convinced that the abuse in Sammy's childhood was absolutely essentially connected to him as an adult, including his behavior at the time of the murders," Mendel said during cross-examination.

"I'm not so sure that I would reach a conclusion that that necessarily meant a diminished capacity in a legal sense," he continued. "I have some reservations."

Cooper is facing the death penalty, and his attorneys are now trying to convince jurors to spare him of that sentence for a life prison term.

Witnesses have testified that Cooper was first beaten by his father at 3 months old and that the abuse continued and escalated as he grew into a teenager.

At around age 13, Cooper stopped crying during the beatings, Mendel said, and stopped "feeling fear or fearing pain."

"Stopping feeling pain was, I believe, a very necessary survival strategy within that family," he testified.

By that time, he had already begun displaying symptoms of dissociation, or a separation of emotions and behaviors from conscious awareness.

Elizabeth Hornthal Worley, Cooper's civics teacher during the 1992 fall semester, also testified Monday that Cooper was a polite and obedient student who was "unusually disconnected" with her and other students.

"It was my first year as a high school teacher," Worley said. "Quite frankly, he wasn't yelling and screaming and causing me a lot of trouble, and I just thought, 'Well, he's quiet and shy. He'll warm up, and we'll move forward.'"

Cooper, however, left school in the spring semester after being arrested and sentenced to a program for troubled youth.

Looking back on the situation now, Worley said, given her experience and counseling education, she would have been more concerned.

"I would have made more effort to refer him to a counselor. I would have made more effort to try to engage, but I did the best I could with what I knew," she said. "Looking here now, I would have done more."

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  • wbearp Apr 13, 2010

    This guy killed. He admits he killed. He should be outta here...period. Enough of these so called great legal minds trying to place the blame elsewhere.

  • treki70 Apr 13, 2010

    if the death penalty is given fine-but lets bring sam back to life and do it again the next day,ect...one for each victim

    oh im sorry thats "cruel and unusal" (but i think they should!)

  • fearna Apr 13, 2010

    There are plenty of other prisoners who claim the same defense right down at 1300 Western Blvd. for Mr. Cooper to commiserate with. People make choices - children of alcoholics choose to either drink themselves stupid or abstain, with no rhyme or reason for the road taken. Take responsbility for your choices, Mr. Cooper, and get right with The Man.

  • danielle3018 Apr 13, 2010

    just give him the death penalty already being abused doesnt excuse MURDER and im sick of hearing it, dont give him a life sentence bc we are the ones paying for the scum just END it already and stick him with a needle to me he is lucky for a needle bc he should get shot and suffer just like those innocent ppl did but lets not go there!

  • Maddie girl Apr 13, 2010

    cry me a river !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • csplantlover Apr 13, 2010

    It's sad the guy was abused during his youth - but that doesn't give him the right to do what he did......

  • Garnerian Apr 13, 2010

    forget the needle, get the rope. It's time these murderers get the message. No more wrist slapping.

  • GLFriday Apr 13, 2010

    My Dad was beaten pretty much daily as a child. As a teen his father put a revolver to his head and pulled the trigger. It didn't fire. He pulled again but that time my dad had enough time to smack the gun so the bullet just grazed his forehead. Then his dad quit working and my dad was forced to drop out of school in 10th grade to support their family and his worthless, drunken dad.

    My dad didn't kill anyone, he didn't beat his kids, he didn't drink, he never went to jail, he went to work everyday, taking only 5 sick days in 47 years, and he gave everyone of his kids the chance to go to college. He says the thing that makes him SICKEST in the world is when people use their childhood as a crutch. He says get up and do better because when you are treated like that you know how very wrong it is. You don't lay down and do the same wicked things or you are worse than the one who did it to you. He says this guy needs to be put to death.

  • vsusu2002 Apr 13, 2010

    I am not a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist but it is difficult to believe that he decided to kill innocent people because he was abused as a child.

  • mulecitybabe Apr 13, 2010

    Give little Sammy a teddy bear to hold while they put the needle in. It's more than he gave his victims.

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