Local News

Court denies media appeal on Nancy Cooper search warrants

Posted October 6, 2009 8:49 a.m. EDT
Updated October 6, 2009 1:48 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Court of Appeals has sided with a lower court's decision to keep sealed three search warrants in the Nancy Cooper murder case.

The warrants were eventually unsealed last year but not before Capitol Broadcasting Co., WRAL News' parent company, and the News & Observer Publishing Co., requested that the warrants be made public.

A Superior Court denied the request on Aug. 25, 2008, and the media outlets appealed the ruling, arguing that the Wake County district attorney did not make an adequate case for sealing the warrants.

Prosecutors argued that making information in the warrants public could hurt the case.

Amanda Martin, an attorney representing Capitol Broadcasting and the News & Observer, argued it was the state's burden to prove why the integrity of the investigation could not be protected any other way.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens said in sealing the warrants that he needs to balance all interests in the case.

Even though the warrants were unsealed, both media outlets are pursuing the case to get a legal precedent for more specific guidelines regarding the sealing of warrants.

"The (Court of Appeals) decision is disappointing and puzzling," attorney Hugh Stevens said. "The panel apparently agreed with and accepted our arguments concerning the procedures that judges must follow and the legal standards they must apply in deciding whether to seal search warrants, but wholly failed to apply those procedures and standards to the facts in this case."

Cooper, 34, was found dead in an undeveloped subdivision just outside Cary’s town limit on July 14, two days after a friend reported her missing. Her husband, Brad Cooper, was charged last October with first-degree murder.

The documents at the subject of the appeal allowed police to search the home and vehicles of the Coopers, as well as to obtain DNA samples from Brad Cooper. The third was for Brad Cooper's office at Cisco Systems in Research Triangle Park. The third was for an undisclosed location.

Search warrants are generally of interest because they include affidavits in which investigators explain to the court why they believe the warrant is justified, possibly including their theories of a case or explaining why a named person is being targeted for the search.