Nancy Cooper

Prosecution lays out its case against Brad Cooper

Posted March 9, 2011
Updated March 10, 2011

— Prosecutors say that the marriage of Brad and Nancy Cooper was falling apart in the months leading up to her death, with Brad Cooper admitting to an extramarital affair and cutting his wife off financially after she wanted to take their two young daughters and return to her native home of Canada.

But Nancy Cooper never made it back.

She went missing on the morning of July 12, 2008, and her partially clad, decomposing body was discovered two days later in a drainage ditch a few miles from the couple's upscale Cary home. She had been strangled.

Brad Cooper was arrested more than three months later and now stands trial in the case. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

Nancy Cooper Nancy Cooper case images

He has said his wife went jogging and never returned home, but on Wednesday afternoon, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Amy Fitzhugh laid out a detailed account of events before and after Nancy Cooper's death that, she said, will prove otherwise. (Watch Fitzhugh's opening statement.)

"You will be convinced that Nancy Rentz Cooper never went for a run on July 12, 2008," Fitzhugh told jurors in an opening statement. "You will be convinced that Bradley Graham Cooper killed his wife and is guilty of first-degree murder."

Defense attorneys will present their opening statement Thursday morning.

The Coopers were going through a divorce, and it appeared amicable, Fitzhugh said, with the couple making plans to sell their house.

Wake County District Attorney Amy Fitzhugh Prosecutor's opening statement

Then, she said, Brad Cooper saw a separation agreement his wife's attorney had drafted.

"Everything changed. Plans to go to Canada were canceled," Fitzhugh said. "Nancy was not free to leave anymore. She'd been keeping the passports for her and her girls in her car, locked in her car, and the defendant, he took them."

Fitzhugh said that after Nancy Cooper's friend reported her missing, Brad Cooper made statements to police investigators that were inconsistent with those he made in a sworn videotaped deposition several months later.

He also acted out of character the morning his wife disappeared, she said, doing "a lot of laundry" and cleaning floors – household chores, she said, he wasn't known for doing.

As police searched for Nancy Cooper, from July 12 to July 14, Fitzhugh said, investigators noticed things that "just don't quite make sense."

According to Fitzhugh:

  • Investigators could never find a missing teal green sundress dress that Nancy Cooper wore to a neighbor's barbecue the night before her death. Brad Cooper presented it later, saying he had washed it.
  • A pair of blue Saucony running shoes she was known to run in weren't missing from a shelf full of shoes, and there was no void on the shelf to suggest she might have been wearing another pair if she were out for a run.
  • Brad Cooper cleaned and vacuumed his car trunk, because he said he spilled gasoline in it, but there was no odor in the car.
  • His garage was clean and organized on July 12 with space to fit a car inside, but an exterminator at the house three days earlier said there were too many toys and items in it to fit a car.
  • Nancy Cooper's purse was locked inside her car, and her keys and cell phone were in the house, even though it was known that Nancy Cooper always ran with her keys so that her husband couldn't get access to important documents in her car.
  • Brad Cooper said he didn't know how to retrieve the call history on his cell phone, even though he was an expert in Voice over Internet Protocol for his job at Cisco Systems. "His job is knowing about phones," Fitzhugh said, "and he didn't know how to access his call history?"

Opening statements originally had been expected Monday, but pre-trial publicity and prospects of a four- to six-week trial made seating a jury in the case difficult. After eight days of interviews and questioning of potential jurors, a 12-member jury and three alternates were finally seated Wednesday morning.

Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner heard last-minute motions on Wednesday afternoon, including a defense motion to sequester witnesses and suppress statements that Nancy Cooper made to others prior to her death. Gessner denied both requests.

In motions Tuesday, defense attorneys challenged statements that Nancy Cooper is said to have made at the barbecue. Prosecutors maintain that her comments revealed "festering, angry" feelings that could be relevant in determining whether her husband strangled her.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that witnesses at the barbecue heard Nancy Cooper saying she "hated" her husband. She also made comments about his having an extramarital affair and that she and her husband had not had sexual intercourse for the previous two years.

Disputes over money and Brad Cooper's dismissive approach to family responsibilities, including housework and child care, were also mentioned, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said.

"As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said 'Words are the skin of the thought,'" Zellinger argued, quoting the famous attorney. "As she walked back across that street that night, the potential for conflict is highly evident."

Defense attorney Robert Trenkle said Nancy Cooper's comments to friends were not verifiable by the victim and would be more "prejudicial than probative" toward the facts in the trial.

However, Gessner ruled Tuesday in the prosecution's favor.

Trenkle asked the judge to allow a statement reportedly made by the Coopers' then-4-year-old daughter to become part of the court record.

A neighbor said the child, Bella, told her she had seen her mother on the morning of July 12 wearing dark shorts and a white T-shirt. The judge deferred his decision on the matter.


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  • Objective Scientist Mar 10, 2011

    "Ever start to think possibly where each one of them would have been if they just kept the marriage vows they took?" - by RM24

    Very simple and straightforward... but perhaps too simplistic. Over time 5 - 10 - 15 years or more two very good people can "grow" in different directions. Both can keep their marriage "vows" in almost every way, including sexual fidelity, but become very much "incompatible" and develop those infamous "irreconcilable differences". Should those two people stay together if both are "unhappy", or if even one is "unhappy"? I don't think so. Try to "fix it", explore reasonable options, but if it cannot be worked out, it is best that each go their own way and seek their individual happiness. Life is WAY TOO SHORT to remain in a relationship that is not a good one!!! In an "ideal world" there would be no divorces... the world in which we live is not "ideal".

  • RM24 Mar 10, 2011

    Ever start to think possibly where each one of them would have been if they just kept the marriage vows they took?

  • RM24 Mar 10, 2011

    Let's stick to the facts please.anastasia

    Based on the info we have thus far if we stuck with the facts then would we not have to assume not guilty?

  • Mar 10, 2011

    My gut feeling is almost always right. And my gut all along has been that this guy is innocent. Felt the same way about the Duke lacrosse players from Day One. That's all I got.

  • RM24 Mar 10, 2011

    thought I heard the STD test was 'negative'?anastasia.

    I also think it was. However its a little unusual for a married person to have STD test. Unless they have reason to suspect they may have received a STD

  • Objective Scientist Mar 10, 2011

    When all the "facts" are in and "on the table"... Brad Cooper may be found guilty, and at that point I may agree with a guilty verdict. However, based on what I have seen, heard, observed through today I could not and would not find him guilty.

    That being said... it is clear to me that there were lots of issues and problems in that marriage/relationship. Another thing that is clear... if you are married/in a relationship and your spouse/significant other is murdered... you'd better have that proverbial "air-tight" alibi !!!

  • itsmyownopinion Mar 10, 2011

    "He also acted out of character the morning his wife disappeared, she said, doing 'a lot of laundry' and cleaning floors – household chores, she said, he wasn't known for doing."

    Hearsay? How could anyone actually KNOW what he did in the privacy of their home? Wouldn't this be something she could have said, but does that mean it's a fact? He may very well have killed her, but he's definitely been tried in the media. The Coopers did not have a solid marriage, and it would appear there was fault on both sides.

  • anastasia Mar 10, 2011

    I thought I heard the STD test was 'negative'? Let's stick to the facts please. And by the way, I would assume it is criminal to intercept the emails between Nancy and her attorney. There is that little thing called 'attorney/client privilege', remember? No one said Nancy was attempting to kidnap children. I believe I heard that upon her lawyers advice she remained in this country *with* her children.

  • RM24 Mar 10, 2011

    Agreed wildcat. I have said from day 1 that it was very possible one of her boyfriends, or even one of her boyfriends wives was involved, knowing Brad would be charged.Mako II

    And what better morning that a morning after a heated argument the night before. Who knows who all was sleeping with who is this situation. But I gives many a motive to want someone dead. Not just the husband. If she strung a boyfriend along for years with promises to leave never doing so then he could have built up quite a bit of anger. Or if she was threatening to go to a boyfriends wife with a positive STD test then there is motive. Or is Brad had a girlfriend that was jealous. All could be involved in this love triangle it appears.

  • RM24 Mar 10, 2011

    Do any of these circumstances preclude respect, integrity, decency as a person? Either one is of the nature to intrude upon a persons privacy or one isn't. Just as I wouldn't think of reading anyone elses journals, diary's, etc., regardless of the circumstances.anastasia

    If there is a good reason to suspect that your spouse could kidnap your children and take them to another country then yes this precludes respect. I have no respect for someone considering kidnapping someones children to carry them to another country. HOWEVER reading emails and killing are two different things. I do not agree with whomever killed this woman for whatever reason. She also stated that her and her husband were not sexually active. However if he knew of the STD test and they were sexually active then that would be a good reason to look for things. She more than likely could have hid the STD along with the affair. And it goes for husband or wife.