Raleigh, N.C. — A Cary man accused of strangling his wife and dumping her body in an unfinished housing development nearly three years ago was found guilty of first-degree murder Thursday, after a lengthy trial that turned out to be the longest non-capital case in Wake County.
The jury of 10 women and two men deliberated for more than 10 hours over the course of three days before reaching its verdict.
Bradley Graham Cooper, 37, who showed little emotion as the verdict was read, was sentenced to life in prison without parole, in Nancy Cooper's July 12, 2008, death.
"This is another milestone in the history of our family, and we were very pleased today with the hard work and the end of that hard work by the jury," Nancy Cooper's father, Garry Rentz, said shortly after the verdict.
"The tragedy is you have two young lives who were wasted – Nancy, who is no longer with us, and Brad, who now faces an elongated period of incarceration," he continued. "There isn’t joy in either of those events for us."
Defense attorneys said they were disappointed in the verdict and believed the case for their client's innocence was strong.
"We feel that, had the jury been permitted to hear the testimony of our computer experts, the verdict likely would have been different," attorney Howard Kurtz said in a statement. "It is our belief that the appellate issues are strong and we hope to have another chance to exonerate our client in the future."
Brad Cooper was taken to Central Prison in Raleigh, where he will stay until he's placed into the state prison system.
Jurors, some who cried after the verdict was read, declined to comment and were escorted from the courthouse by sheriff's deputies.
"This case, like most of the cases we see, has not been a happy case. This case is a horribly sad tragedy," Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner told them. "If you're bothered by what you've experienced in this case, you're not alone."
Nearly 100 witnesses testified over a course of 36 days in the trial as prosecutors sought to prove that an angry Brad Cooper, tired and fed up with Nancy Cooper, planned her murder and carried it out in the early morning hours of July 12, 2008.
Defense attorneys argued detectives never looked beyond their client as a suspect, because they were concerned that a random murder would tarnish Cary's reputation as a safe community. They characterized police work as being "dishonest" and "inept."
"They essentially tried to put the Cary Police Department on trial," said Karl Knudsen, a local criminal defense attorney not affiliated with the case. "When you do that, the prosecution then looks at what it has and makes a determination that if it's remotely relevant with what they have to prove … they're going to lay out everything they got. And that takes time."
Cary Town Manager Benjamin Shivar on Thursday disputed the defense claims in a written statement.
"With today’s verdict and despite the very public and hurtful allegations to the contrary, it’s clear that they are exemplary, and Cary is served by the best," Shivar said. "Since 1986 … our community has seen 19 murders, and with every one that has been brought to trial, the suspect has been convicted. Clearly, our police department has the knowledge, skills, abilities and resources to solve complex crimes."
Cary Police Chief Pat Bazemore also responded to the verdict.
“Today’s verdict brings a terrible chapter in our community to a close," she said. "Nancy’s family and friends, as well as our citizens at large, can move ahead with confidence that justice has been served."
Brad Cooper, who was arrested in October 2008, told police that his wife went jogging around 7 a.m. the day she died and never returned home.
A man walking his dog on July 14, 2008, found her decomposing body – clad only in a sports bra – facedown in a drainage ditch off Fielding Drive in the unfinished Oaks at Meadowridge subdivision, 3 miles from the Coopers' home.
The state raised a number of questions during its five-week case about Brad Cooper's actions in the days leading up to and following Nancy Cooper's death.
That included the possibility that the certified expert in Internet phone technology for Cisco Systems staged a call from his home phone to his cellphone to make it appear that Nancy Cooper was still alive when prosecutors contend she was dead.
They argued that he searched Google Maps for Fielding Drive on his laptop computer less than 12 hours before she was killed and zoomed in on where the body was ultimately found.
Police never found they type of router and other hardware that would have allowed their client to stage a phone call, defense attorneys argued, and the computer evidence was tampered with. Jurors, however, were not allowed to hear from two expert defense witnesses on the Google search.
"It's certainly going to be an issue," said Dan Boyce, a former federal prosecutor who's now a defense attorney. "This was a highly unusual case in that it was largely based on unusual circumstantial evidence … the router, the cellphone, the computer, the Google map – all these issues that don't normally arise in a murder case."
More than a dozen of Nancy Cooper's friends and family members also testified about trouble in the Coopers' failing marriage, including signs that Brad Cooper was controlling of his wife.
He put her on a weekly allowance, monitored her phone calls and intercepted her email, witnesses testified, and he took away their two children's passports to keep her from returning to her native Canada when he learned of the proposed financial terms of a separation agreement.
"In today’s day and age, people under that domestic violence is far past that (not just physical violence)," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said. "It involves strained relationships, emotional abuse and issues of control, and that’s exactly what you could see in this case."
In cooperation with the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, family members helped start Nancy's Butterfly Fund to raise money to help minimize the financial obstacles that might prevent women from leaving violent and nonviolent abusive situations.
"We as a family, I think, a long time ago made our minds up that we would not deal with ourselves as victims but deal with ourselves as survivors," Rentz said.
"We've come through the loss of a child. We know that loss is a result of domestic violence. We'd like to do what we can to solve the problem or to save some other family from the journey we've just gone through," he continued.