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Cooper custody battle returns to court

A judge ruled Monday that Brad Cooper's in-laws may require him to submit to a psychiatric exam at their expense.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The custody battle between Nancy Cooper's husband and his children's maternal grandparents returned to family court Monday with a judge granting their request that he undergo a psychological evaluation.

Brad Cooper's attorney, Deborah Sandlin, said he had already undergone a "every test known to man" on Aug. 8 by Dr. Jonathan Gould, of Charlotte, and expressed concern that a court-ordered evaluation could delay a reunion of her client and his two young daughters.

"Mr. Cooper is very anxious to have his children back," Sandlin said.

But Judge Debra Sasser allowed the plaintiffs' request, saying that Garry and Donna Rentz, Nancy Cooper's parents, would have to pay for it.

Alice Stubbs, the attorney representing the Rentzes, said her clients are not confident that Gould is neutral.

She said Brad Cooper's mental health is "in controversy" and asked that all visits between Brad Cooper and his two young daughters be supervised.

The Rentzes filed for custody on July 16, two days after Nancy Cooper's body was found in an undeveloped subdivision. They were granted temporary emergency custody until next month.

They were present at Monday's hearing, but Brad Cooper was not, Sandlin said, because he thought the judge would postpone the case until another day.

He did, however, have a supervised visit with the children over the weekend.

Sandlin also asked the judge Monday to consider Brad Cooper's fitness as a parent separately from the custody of his daughters.

While she agreed to separate hearings for a permanent custody hearing, Sasser warned the split would be time-consuming and burdensome and denied the motion for the temporary custody hearing, scheduled for Oct. 16.

Sandlin also acknowledged that the open murder case complicates a decision on custody.

If no one is charged in Nancy Cooper's death before the custody hearing, Sasser said, her decision would be more difficult because she would have to make that determination – a critical factor in deciding whether the children would be safe – herself.

"The elephant that sits in the room is that if there is evidence that Mr.Cooper is in any way responsible for his wife's death, that's certainly relevant in the custody case," Sasser concluded.

Sasser also denied a motion for a protective order to limit the questions posed to Brad Cooper during deposition in the custody case.

Sandlin refuted the implication that Brad Cooper was not cooperating with the investigation. "Whatever he has he will turn over," she said, but pointed out that the plaintiffs have asked for phone, computer and bank records dating to January of 2008.

She said the request posed an undue burden and could be "unreasonably embarrassing" to her client.

The judge called the requests relevant to the custody case.

Although the judge declined to put a legal limit on questions he could be asked, Stubbs remained skeptical that he would cooperate fully.

Brad Cooper is scheduled to be deposed in the temporary custody case Thursday.

An autopsy report released late Monday found Nancy Cooper was strangled, but Cary police have declined to comment on the investigation.

Nancy Cooper was reported missing July 12 after she failed to show up to help paint a friend's house. Brad Cooper told police his wife went jogging around 7 a.m. and never returned.

He has not been named a suspect in his wife's death, and Brad Cooper has adamantly denied being involved.

"It is my understanding that the murder of Mr. Cooper's wife ... is no closer to being solved since the day she was killed," his lawyer concluded Monday.

Cary police Chief Pat Bazemore, in a statement Monday, said investigators are making progress in the case and are working closely with local, state and federal authorities.

"The journey to the truth and justice can be long and arduous," Garry Rentz said in a statement regarding the autopsy report. "Today's news marks a point that is particularly poignant and painful but necessary to further the evidentiary process leading to a conviction of the person or persons responsible for Nancy's murder."

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