Nancy Cooper

Brad Cooper defense questions Google Maps search

Posted April 14, 2011 12:21 p.m. EDT
Updated April 15, 2011 5:32 p.m. EDT

— An attorney for Brad Cooper on Thursday cross-examined an FBI agent who found computer evidence suggesting that, on the day before his wife disappeared, the defendant searched maps of the area where her body was found.

When asked by defense attorney Howard Kurtz if he thought Brad Cooper was looking for a place to dump Nancy Cooper's body, agent Chris Chappell said that it would be consistent with what he found on the defendant's laptop computer.

“The fact remains to me that the content was on the computer," Chappell, a Durham police detective assigned to the FBI's Cyber Task Force, said. "The fact remains that it was at a high level of magnification.”

Brad Cooper, on trial for first-degree murder, has said his wife went for a jog on the morning of July 12, 2008, but prosecutors say he killed her inside their Cary home and dumped her body at the end of a cul-de-sac in an undeveloped subdivision on Fielding Drive, just outside Cary's town limits.

A man walking his dog found her body two days later.

Chappell testified Wednesday that when he examined the computer in September 2008, he found multiple satellite photos from Google Maps on Brad Cooper's password-protected work laptop from July 11, 2008 – nearly 24 hours before Nancy Cooper was reported missing.

The user also zoomed in on the map for multiple views of the area.

"There were magnifications of two (areas), including the area where Nancy Cooper’s body was found," Chappell said Thursday.

The search lasted 41 seconds, he said.

Defense attorneys also claim that 692 files on Brad Cooper's laptop were changed during a 27-hour period while the computer was in Cary police's possession when it should have been powered down.

Chappell said he examined every one of the files that the defense says were modified and that the changes were all operating system or security updates. There was also no evidence that the computer was hacked, he added.

Prosecutors objected to a line of questioning by Kurtz about why someone knowledgeable about computers, like Brad Cooper, would leave a piece of evidence like the Google Maps search on a laptop and not leave any other evidence.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said investigators did find other evidence, such as a bookmarked website, "A Practical Guide to Suicide" that Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner previously suppressed.

Gessner allowed testimony about the website on Thursday.

Zellinger said Kurtz's questioning opened the door to introduce the website, which defense attorneys say Brad Cooper admitted to visiting while reading about fathers who lost custody of their children.

"It shows what is going on in the defendant's head at that point," Zellinger said. "Perhaps he was going to make it look like Mrs. Cooper committed suicide."

Defense attorneys contend that investigators decided early on in the case that Brad Cooper killed his wife and that, in addition to allowing the computer files to tampered with, police ignored evidence that could have helped them find out who killed Nancy Cooper.

Taking the stand late Thursday afternoon, the lead investigator in the case, detective George Daniels, said police followed up on all leads and information they received until October 2008, when Brad Cooper was arrested.

"But we did not use that as our basis for this investigation or basis for Brad becoming a person of interest at that time," Daniels said. "We could not eliminate him as a person of interest, because there were too many things that came back as reasonable suspicion, at the time, that there was something we were not getting the full truth on."

Daniels recalled that Brad Cooper appeared tired, almost lethargic, when he met him on July 12, 2008 – something he said was unlike what he had experienced in other missing persons cases.

The house was messy and not clean, despite Brad Cooper saying he had cleaned all morning that day, Daniels said. And Nancy Cooper's bed appeared as if it had been pulled down but not slept in.

He observed later that her favorite dress – the one she had worn to a party the night before her death – was found hanging over a laundry basket beneath a second laundry basket.

It appeared out of place, he said, considering Brad Cooper's description of it as being a delicate item.

"I'm noting these things, but we're looking for a missing person," Daniels said. "I'm not going after any kind of suspicions at that point, but I am noticing what I should be noticing as a detective."