Judge delays trial in slaying of Nancy Cooper
Posted September 10, 2010
Updated September 11, 2010
Raleigh, N.C. — The trial for a Cary man charged with murder in his wife's death more than two years ago has been postponed until at least February 2011.
Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner said Friday that more time was needed for discovery – the sharing of evidence between the prosecution and defense – before Brad Cooper goes on trial in the July 2008 death of Nancy Cooper, a 34-year-old mother of two.
Nancy Cooper's parents, when told of the delay, agreed with the judge's decision.
"We understand the need to proceed with caution," her father Gary Rentz said. "All these matters need to be dealt with before the trial. The delay is just part of that process."
Gessner also said that he would take some more time before ruling on whether to move the trial, which was originally set for Oct. 25, outside of Wake County.
Brad Cooper told investigators that his wife went jogging on the morning of July 12, 2008, and never returned home. A man walking his dog two days later found her body in an undeveloped subdivision less than 3 miles from the Coopers’ Lochmere home. An autopsy determined that she had likely been strangled.
Defense attorney Robert Trenkle contended that local news reports could keep him from finding an unbiased jury in Wake County.
"There is a reasonable likelihood that the massive amount of publicity will form preconceived motions in jurors' minds," he said.
Trenkle cited dozens of published articles, along with court documents and videos of news conferences and witness depositions posted online. He said that coverage of the custody case waged by Nancy Cooper's family for the couple's two daughters included statements from her family and friends that were detrimental to Brad Cooper.
"She has been repeatedly characterized as a victim of domestic violence," Trenkle said.
Attorneys argued that the online news coverage increases the length of time that potential jurors can review reports about the case.
"There are still articles being generated, and they are still generating the same prejudicial information," Trenkle said.
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings argued that the defense attorneys must also prove that potential jurors have become biased against the defendant.
"The defendant has the burden ... to show that the exposure of the jurors to the media results in an unfair trial," Cummings said. "The mere exposure doesn't man the defendant won't be able to get a fair and impartial jury."
Trenkle pointed to nearly 8,000 viewer comments posted on WRAL.com articles about the case, but prosecutors argued that the comments were part of a back-and-forth dialogue with different points of view.
"There needs to be some evidence that not only is the public aware of it, but that it has some prejudicial effect," Cummings said.
Defense attorneys also argued that Wake County and Cary, in particular, have lower crime rates than similar-sized urban areas, so Nancy Cooper's death has attracted more attention normal.
The judge questioned a Web site posted by Brad Cooper's lawyers before his arrest that contained information about the case. Defense attorneys said that the Web site was taken down in December 2008 and that they would provide the judge with records of it.