Finances strained Cooper marriage
Posted March 31, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — A neighbor of Nancy Cooper testified Thursday in the first-degree murder trial of Brad Cooper that she saw the garage door of the couple's home open on the morning that Nancy Cooper disappeared.
But Sharon Baughman, who lived in the same cul-de-sac in Cary's Lochmere neighborhood, said she didn't think much of it as she returned home from walking her dog around 6:45 a.m. on July 12, 2008.
She said she knew Nancy Cooper had been training for a half-marathon and thought that it was possible that she was up, trying to train and avoid the July heat.
After getting home, Baughman said, she worked in the back yard and never heard or saw anything unusual.
Prosecutors have said that Brad Cooper, 37, strangled his wife in the early-morning hours of that day and drove his car to dump her body in a drainage ditch 3 miles away.
Brad Cooper has claimed she told him she was going jogging around 7 a.m. and never returned home.
Two of Nancy Cooper's friends, Hannah Mathers Prichard and Jennifer Fetterolf, also took the stand Thursday, describing more details of the couple’s marriage in the months and week leading to her death.
Prichard said Nancy Cooper wanted a divorce and wanted to move to Canada with her two children after Brad Cooper had an affair with one of her friends.
But Prichard said that Brad Cooper refused to let her go, cut her off financially and took the children's passports to prevent her from leaving.
"I told her I was scared for her and that I thought he was crazy," Prichard recalled of a conversation she had after Nancy Cooper couldn't pay her water bill. "I told her, ‘You never know what a crazy person's going to do next.’"
Prichard said that the Coopers sought marriage counseling in early 2008 after Brad Cooper admitted to the affair but that the relationship was in disrepair.
"She was done," Prichard said. "And those were her exact words."
Still, Nancy Cooper, a Canadian citizen, was financially dependent on her husband because she had been unable to obtain a U.S. work visa.
After closing their joint bank and credit accounts, Brad Cooper initially gave his wife an $80 weekly allowance, Prichard said. He later increased it to $300 a week after Nancy Cooper convinced him it was not enough.
The money, Fetterolf said, was for groceries, gasoline and other incidentals for Nancy Cooper and the children.
But the disputes over finances worsened.
In the week prior to her death, Nancy Cooper told Prichard that Brad Cooper refused to give her the allowance because a friend, Jessica Adam, had paid her to do some painting.
"She probably told me she hated Brad more times than I can count," Prichard said.
"He had told her that, since she had made money at Jessica's, that he didn't need to give her an allowance for that week. She was very angry," Prichard continued.
It was common, Fetterolf said, for Nancy Cooper to vent about her frustrations with her husband and how their relationship was going.
"She said, 'Jennifer, he's breaking me,'" Fetterolf recalled of a conversation with Nancy Cooper. "She said, 'I don't know how much I have left to fight.' I told her I was sorry, and I gave her a hug."
The couple's problems also took their toll on the Coopers' young daughters. Prichard said the oldest, Bella, who was 4 at the time, had been potty-trained for two years but had started having accidents.
Defense attorneys have characterized Prichard as one of Nancy Cooper's "divorce friends" whom she met within the last year of her life and with whom she "fed distorted, negative information" about her husband.
There were things about the Cooper marriage that neither Prichard nor Fetterolf said they knew, including the Coopers' money situation, and an affair Nancy Cooper allegedly had.
Brad Cooper had to take drastic financial measures to compensate for his wife's overspending, defense attorneys have said, and he took her name off their accounts and put her on a cash allowance keep the family from "financial ruin."
The state has said Brad Cooper became financially controlling to keep her from returning to Canada, something Nancy Cooper had also expressed concerns about.
"She did say she felt like Brad was more interested in the money than the kids, because he initially agreed to let the children go with Nancy," Baughman said. "When discussion came about dividing the property and taking care of the children and the money needed for that, he changed his mind, and he was no longer willing to go through with her having the children full-time."