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Samuel Cooper murder trial nears end

Posted April 14, 2010

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— Jurors could begin deliberating as early as Thursday whether a Raleigh man convicted in a series of shooting deaths should get the death penalty or spend the rest of his life in prison.

The defense team for Samuel James Cooper rested its case Wednesday after showing jurors copies of a clinical psychologist's report on the effects of childhood abuse the defendant suffered.

Cooper also indicated to Superior Court Judge Henry Hight that he would not testify on his own behalf.

Closing arguments are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Cooper, 33, was arrested Nov. 21, 2007, following a bank robbery in Garner. Ballistics testing on a gun in that crime later connected him to the 2006 and 2007 murders of Ossama Haj-Hussein, 43, LeRoy Jernigan, 41, Timothy Barnwell, 34, Ricky High, 48, and Tariq Hussain, 52.

The jury found him guilty of first-degree murder in each shooting, as well as the bank robbery.

Defense attorneys have never disputed that Cooper committed the crimes. The issue in the trial is their client's mental state at the time.

They have argued that Cooper was in a delusional state, absent of any emotions and did not understand the consequences of his actions because of years of "bizarre and ritualized" abuse at the hands of his father.

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

If the jury decides on the death penalty for Cooper, he would be the sixth person sent to North Carolina's death row since legal challenges effectively put executions on hold.

In 2007, the North Carolina Medical Board adopted a policy that taking part in an execution would violate a physician's code of ethics and would subject a doctor to having his or her medical license revoked.

The state Supreme Court later ruled that doctors can't be punished for taking part in executions.

Several death-row inmates also sued the state over the protocol for lethal injections, and that issue hasn’t been resolved in the courts.

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