Defense says evidence was ignored in Nancy Cooper's death
Posted March 10, 2011 11:33 a.m. EST
Updated March 10, 2011 7:46 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — A defense attorney for a Cary man on trial for killing his wife in 2008 told jurors Thursday that police work was "inept" and "dishonest" and that police disregarded evidence in the case that did not support their theory that the defendant killed his wife.
Brad Cooper, 37, is on trial for first-degree murder in the death of Nancy Cooper, 34. Brad Cooper has said his wife went jogging on July 12, 2008, and never returned. Her body was found two days later in a drainage ditch approximately three miles from the couple's upscale home.
In an opening statement that lasted more than two hours Thursday morning, attorney Howard Kurtz said Cary police had decided early on in their investigation that Brad Cooper killed his wife, ignoring 16 witnesses who told them they thought they saw her running. (Watch Kurtz's opening statement.)
"Not until two months later did police take the time to talk to those people," Kurtz said.
One of those witnesses, Curtis Hodge, told police that he saw Nancy Cooper jogging in a bicycle lane on Kildaire Farm Road and that he saw an older model Chevrolet van with two Hispanic males turn around to follow her.
"But this did not match up with the Cary Police Department's 'Brad-did-it theory,'" Kurtz said.
At news conferences early on, Police Chief Pat Bazemore said Nancy Cooper's death was not a random act. Kurtz said investigators focused on Brad Cooper because a domestic crime would seem less threatening to local citizens.
"Chief of Police Bazemore was concerned about Cary's reputation as a safe city," Kurtz said. "There was pressure for this to be an isolated incident, and it was their job to put the public at ease."
Investigators also ignored other evidence, Kurtz said, that could have helped capture Nancy Cooper's killer, including footprints and tire tracks found around Nancy Cooper's body as well as a cigarette butt that wasn't tested for DNA until nearly a year later.
Data on Nancy Cooper's Blackberry had been erased from her phone, and detectives ignored a Facebook account that Nancy Cooper had kept secret from her husband and friends – both integral parts of the case because "they are windows into people's private lives," Kurtz said.
"Nancy led just such a private life. Nancy was not public with any of her friends about her relationship with John Pearson," Kurtz said.
Kurtz said Pearson had a sexual encounter with Nancy Cooper in 2005, calling into question the paternity of the Coopers' youngest daughter, who "was born eight months and 24 days after he and Nancy were together."
Pearson and Nancy Cooper had recently started meeting again, and although he had never gone running with her, he knew her running routes, Kurtz added. But police never pursued Pearson in the case.
On Wednesday, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Amy Fitzhugh told the jury that that the Coopers' marriage was falling apart and that Brad Cooper was angry and lashed out at his wife because she wanted to move to Canada with the couple's two young daughters.
Kurtz admitted that the marriage was in trouble, partly because of Brad Cooper's affair with Heather Metour, his wife's best friend at the time, but said his client was committed to fixing the marriage, by seeking out marriage counseling and doing more around the house to try to make his wife happy.
"Even as the Cooper marriage became strained, Brad loved Nancy. He still does," Kurtz said. "Nancy and his family meant the world to him."
But the couple was close to "financial ruin," Kurtz said, partly because of Nancy Cooper's spending, which outpaced his client's $135,000 annual salary.
They had maxed out their home equity line of credit and borrowed against Brad Cooper's 401K plan. Kurtz said Brad Cooper had to "regulate the family budget," where his only option was to put Nancy Cooper on a weekly allowance of $300.
Unable to get over the affair, Nancy Cooper, by 2008, had decided she wanted a divorce and began airing the couple's "dirty laundry, Brad's faults and embellishing as only Nancy could," to a new group of friends Kurtz referred to as her "divorce friends."
"Nancy's friends took Nancy's side," Kurtz said. "Her longer-term friends, though, were not fed the same distorted negative information about Brad. Nancy knew better, so she did not tell them."
Later Thursday, friend Diana Duncan, testified that Nancy Cooper confided in her in 2007 that Brad Cooper had an affair but that they were going to work on their marriage.
"At first it seemed like working on it was something they were both doing," Duncan said. "But Nancy was upset because he wouldn't admit that it had happened."
It was an "angry upset," Duncan continued, and as time went on, Nancy Cooper felt uncomfortable in the house, especially with the master bedroom closet, where the sexual encounter occurred.
At some point, Duncan testified, Nancy Cooper told her she wanted to move.
"She decided she was pretty much done," she said. "She said she wanted to get divorced."