Local News

Brad Cooper won't face death penalty

Posted December 5, 2008 5:00 a.m. EST
Updated December 7, 2008 12:18 p.m. EST

— Brad Cooper learned Friday that he won't face the death penalty if he is convicted of killing his wife.

The 35-year-old was charged with first-degree murder more than four months after Nancy Cooper’s body was found in an undeveloped subdivision less than three miles from the couple’s home in the Lochmere subdivision in Cary.

First-degree murder is punishable by either the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ruled the case doesn't qualify for capital punishment after prosecutors said in a Friday morning hearing that there were no aggravating factors in the case, such as the commission of another crime that led to Nancy Cooper's death.

"Based on the investigation our office is aware of working with the Cary Police Department, we don't believe at this time there are any aggravating factors to proceed capitally," Assistant Wake County District Attorney Howard Cummings said.

Cummings said after court that because the investigation is ongoing, the state can still go back to the judge and ask for the death penalty if new evidence points to aggravating circumstances.

Cary police, for example, obtained records of Brad Cooper's Google e-mail account this week, according to . Investigators said he had rigged his wife's personal e-mail account to forward copies of all incoming messages to his e-mail account, including messages from her attorney as a separation agreement was being drafted last spring, according to the warrant.

Brad Cooper told police he last saw his wife on the morning of July 12 before she went running. A friend reported her missing after she failed to show up for a scheduled meeting.

A man walking his dog on July 14 found Nancy Cooper's body lying on the bank of a storm water pond. The 34-year-old mother of two was likely strangled, according to a medical examiner's report.

Through his attorneys, Brad Cooper has denied being involved with her slaying but has admitted to police that he and his wife were having marital difficulties.

He has been held without bond in the Wake County Jail since his arrest, and defense attorney Howard Kurtz asked Stephens to set a bond Friday morning, saying Cooper's job at Cisco Systems Inc. depended on him getting out of jail.

Stephens was a bit put off by the request, noting that notice is usually required for a bond hearing.

"Mr. Cooper's employment may be important to him, but frankly sir, it is of little consequence in the scheme of things in light of the charges he is facing," Stephens said.

A Cisco spokeswoman said that, as of Friday morning, Cooper was an employee and that the company was reviewing his status in light of the charges. Kurtz said after the hearing that Cooper would resign from the company

Kurtz said Cooper has no criminal history and continued to live and work in Cary after his wife's death, even though he knew the police investigation centered on him. He said Cooper's mother would stay with him.

Stephens set a $2 million bond and said he would revisit the matter in February if Cooper were still in jail at that time.

"It's a bond that almost no one can make," Kurtz said, adding that keeping Cooper in jail hinders the defense. "Our focus here is to clear Brad Cooper's name, and our focus all along has been to clear his name."

Claiming Cooper was emotionally abusive to his wife in the months prior to her death, Nancy Cooper's family was granted temporary custody of the couple’s two young daughters.

Under a judge’s order, Cooper is limited to two 15-minute phone calls with the girls each week as long as he is in jail. He may correspond with them through the mail.

Also, as part of the temporary arrangement, neither he nor Nancy Cooper’s family are allowed to discuss with the children the circumstances of their mother’s death or the charges against him.

Nancy Cooper's parents, Garry and Donna Rentz, said Friday they were pleased with prosecutors' decision not to seek the death penalty. Garry Rentz said the family was consulted but left the decision in their hands.

"We've been through a horrendous five months," he said. "We're really pleased that there's some light at the end of this period. We've been really lucky a lot of things have gone right."

Donna Rentz said the Coopers' daughters, Bella, 4, and Katie, 2, are doing well and that the extended family is looking forward to spending Christmas together.

"It's a time when we're going to take time for Nancy, and we are having our own private family memorial for her, and we're expecting that to be very special," she said.