Local News

Samuel Cooper gets life for shooting deaths

Posted April 20, 2010
Updated April 21, 2010

— A Wake County jury has spared a Raleigh man from the death penalty, recommending that he be sentenced to life in prison without parole for shooting and killing five men in 2006 and 2007.

Jurors deliberated for 15 hours over three days before reaching their decision Tuesday.

Samuel James Cooper, 33, was convicted April 6 of five counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Ossama Haj-Hussein, 43, on May 12, 2006; LeRoy Jernigan, 41, on June 3, 2006; Timothy Barnwell, 34, on April 27, 2007; Ricky High, 48, on Oct. 12, 2007; and Tariq Hussain, 52, on Oct. 14, 2007.

Samuel James Cooper Trial excerpt: Samuel Cooper sentenced

Cooper sat with his head down and showed little emotion as Superior Court Judge Henry Hight read the jurors' recommendation and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

Cooper had nothing to say. His victims' families, however, did.

"He took a wonderful man from us. He ripped our hearts out, and nobody will ever be able to understand that," Jernigan's mother, Lorraine Jernigan, said in court. "I hope he has to see every one of his victims' faces every day for the rest of his life."

LeRoy Jernigan, a husband and father of two, was working as a cleaning contractor at the Circus Restaurant on Wake Forest Road in Raleigh when Cooper shot him once in the early-morning hours and fled the scene in his truck.

"I wish Mr. Cooper would just rot in hell," Lorraine Jernigan said outside court later Tuesday. "He killed my son, and as far as I'm concerned, right now, they (the jury) just killed him all over again."

Cooper's trial trial lasted more than a month and consisted of 52 state witnesses and 11 defense witnesses during 16 days of testimony. It was the first in recent history in which a defendant was tried for five homicides at the same time.

That was a factor in the jury reaching its decision, juror William Evaul said.

"People were not happy about the choice we had to make," he said. "I think if the cases had been separated, you might have been able to get a death penalty on one or two or three of them, but connecting all five, and then saying, 'If I give death for one, it's like giving death for all five.' That was the hard part."

Timothy Barnwell's mother thanked law enforcement authorities, the court and the jury for removing "a greedy, dangerous person from the streets of our country."

"Someday, he is going to face the ultimate judge, the God Almighty," Phyllis Barnwell said, "and it will be eternal damnation."

Her only son, a Porsche enthusiast and Star Wars memorabilia collector, was at home in his second-floor North Raleigh apartment when Cooper handcuffed, hogtied and duct-taped him and then ransacked his apartment. Timothy Barnwell managed to jump over the balcony before Cooper shot him five times.

"He should have a long and tedious life and remember all of those that he killed so brutally, especially my baby," Phyllis Barnwell said.

None of Cooper's family members were present for his sentencing

At issue in the month-long trial was not whether Cooper committed the crimes, but whether he acted with premeditation and deliberation at the times of the shootings.

Defense attorneys argued that Cooper suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative disorder as a result of years of "sadistic and ritualized" abuse by his father, and at the time the shootings, he was absent of any emotions and in a delusional state.

The state argued that Cooper is a cold-blooded serial killer who was deliberate in the crimes, knew that they were wrong and went to great lengths to hide evidence that could link him to them. He might have some mental issues, prosecutors said, but none of them affected his ability to form a specific intent to kill.

Garner police arrested Cooper in November 2007 following a robbery at a local Bank of America. Ballistics experts linked evidence from the homicides to a 9 mm handgun Cooper dropped while fleeing police following that bank robbery.

Cooper later confessed to the killings in a series of interviews with police.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden commended the defense after the jury's recommendation and apologized to the victims' families.

"I want to apologize for my failures to the victims' families," he said. "I just want to tell them I'm sorry."

Cruden prosecuted Cooper previously when he escaped from prison in 1999, and he was one of several court personnel who helped detain Cooper after he assaulted a court deputy and tried to take her gun during that trial.

"I saw what this defendant was capable of doing," Cruden said of that day. "I (also) prosecuted him in this case for the five murders that he committed. I hope and pray I hope I don't prosecute him for No. 6."


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  • milesnicole Apr 21, 2010

    so if all the persons had been black would all of your "death penalty recommendations" still be the same....hmmm. The death penalty for anyone would not bring any of the persons back.. will it really bring solace to know that someone was killed bc they took life? if you think its wrong to kill then why support the death penalty?

  • garnerCanesFan Apr 21, 2010

    Let's see....Life in prison. So if we assume he will live another 50 years, thats $1.5 million in taxpayer money. I am not going to even try to think of the juries reasoning for this outcome.
    I just hope one bright sunny afternoon on of the victims family members bumps into one of the jury members and they have to try to explain how they felt this P. O. S should live.

  • luvbailey Apr 21, 2010

    twc, we need laws in order to live with each other; God gave us the 10 Commandments not only to know how to live in a relationship with Him, but how to live in relationships with each other.

    No, I am absolutely NOT saying that God did this. A risk in making a post like I did is that someone will immediately jump to the conclusion that you jumped to. What I AM saying is that I believe that God allows good to flow from evil. I do not know why God has spared Cooper's life at this time. Perhaps He has a greater purpose for Cooper; then again perhaps not. I have seen MANY incidences of evil being turned into good. In my own personal case, I was a victim of an armed robbery during which I was certain I was going to be killed. In the months after I learned how destructive anger, hate and revenge could be for me. After that God drew me closer than ever to Him. And I learned how much MORE powerful forgiveness is than anger and hate.

  • disgruntled Apr 21, 2010

    Does this life sentence mean 80 years too?.. Wonder what happened to the other murders that completed their "Life in Prison" terms?

  • twc Apr 21, 2010

    luvbailey, elaborate!

    And explain why we need laws if what you say is true. What you are saying, in effect, is that God did it.

  • luvbailey Apr 21, 2010

    danielle, you make some good points but my belief is that God always has a plan at work, and that God can create good from evil. Were these men "predestined" by God to die at the hands of this man? Or was it just Cooper's "free will" to take their lives? I'll be the first to say that I don't begin to know all the answers here, if there are answers to these questions. But what I do know with complete certainty is that God allows good to come from evil. If you or anyone else wants me to elaborate, I will be pleased to do so.

  • twc Apr 21, 2010

    luvbailey, have you ever wondered why God gave us the right to decide?

    And why the devil only gets one vote out of 12?

  • danielle3018 Apr 21, 2010

    well thats funny bc god didnt choose when these victims died a d bag decided to take those innocent ppl lives god has nothing to do with it it was cooper who decided to murder innocent ppl if he wasnt a psycho path these families would still have there loved ones... it wasnt there time bc "god wanted them" it was a psycho path on a killing spree that killed innocent ppl god has nothing to do with it

  • yachtman Apr 21, 2010

    "Yachtman.... I don't care what he said. Its within his rights to say it."

    ==SilverWolf - What he (silverspoon) said is that the victims' families should find the jurors in this case and kill them. Would you be OK with it if I disliked something you said or did, and then went online and started encouraging specific individuals (one of the victims family members is on this blog by the way) to find you and kill you??

    Look SilverWolf, I suspect you and I agree on this subject far more than we disagree, but even for a libertarian kind of guy like me, there are limits to what a person can legally say online. Even beyond that, the question remains - Is it an appropriate, intelligent, or advisable thing to say even if it is legal to go online and encourage yet another illegal killing???

    Bartman - Your comment is too ignorant to warrant any further response. Report that (or do I have the right of free speech here as long as I don't threaten anyone).

  • luvbailey Apr 21, 2010

    I used to feel like the rest of ya'll - get a rope, fry 'em, etc. I've had a change of heart and am just about ready to publicly declare my opposition to the death penalty, which will shock and disapppoint my conservative friends. I am basically a conservative, but in this area i go the other way. It is a moral question to me. If it is wrong to take life at the beginning (abortion) then it is wrong to take life at the end (death penalty). IMHO it is up to God to decide when this man dies. I know the arguement: an unborn child is completely innocent while this evil man is completely guilty. Still I think it is up to God to decide when his life ends. I will probably need a couple of other posts to complete my thoughts.