State will ask Supreme Court to consider Brad Cooper appeal
Posted September 10, 2013
Updated September 20, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Attorney General's Office said Tuesday it plans to ask the state Supreme Court to review last week's Court of Appeals opinion ordering a new trial for Brad Cooper, a Cary man convicted in the 2008 death of his wife.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals ordered a new murder trial for Cooper last week, citing rulings made by Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner that allowed computer evidence and disallowed a defense witness.
Because the Appeals Court's decision was unanimous, the state Supreme Court could let it stand, opening the door for a new trial for Cooper. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper said his office planned to ask the high court to hear the case.
Brad Cooper was convicted in May 2011 and is serving a life prison sentence for first-degree murder in the July 2008 death of Nancy Cooper, whose body was found in a drainage ditch in a cul-de-sac of an undeveloped subdivision near their home.
He says his wife went jogging one Saturday morning in July 2008 and never returned home.
Brad Cooper's appeal centered on a ruling that allowed as evidence of a Google Maps search of the site where Nancy Cooper's body was found – the only concrete evidence linking Brad Cooper to the crime.
State witnesses testified during the trial that the search was performed the day before she disappeared, but defense attorneys contended that someone tampered with the computer.
"The trial court did err in limiting (Jay) Ward's testimony in such a manner that prevented him from testifying concerning data retrieved from the laptop, including the Google Maps files," the three-member panel said in its 56-page ruling.
Ward was a network security professional but was found by the trial court not to be qualified as a forensics computer analyst. Another expert witness for the defense, Giovanni Masucci, also wasn't allowed to testify about the files, partly because the judge found that his name was not on a potential witness list, as required by law.
"The Google Map files recovered from the defendant's laptop were perhaps the most important pieces of evidence admitted in this trial," the appeals court said. "We hold that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding Ward from testifying, relying on the state's own evidence, to his opinion that the Google Maps files recovered from the defendant's laptop had been tampered with."
Brad Cooper's trial attorney, Howard Kurtz, welcomed the ruling, saying he was "thrilled" that his client will get another day in court.
"It's hard to be completely happy when something like this happens, because we shouldn't have had to have gone through an appeal," Kurtz said. "The evidence that drove the conviction was the map. So the fact that I had not only one but two witnesses prepared to say that these maps were planted on that computer would have made all the difference in the world."