Nancy Cooper

Defense: State 'utterly failed' to prove Brad Cooper's guilt

Posted May 3, 2011 11:18 a.m. EDT
Updated May 4, 2011 5:44 a.m. EDT

— Prosecutors tasked with proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Brad Cooper killed his wife nearly three years ago "utterly failed to meet that burden," defense attorneys said Tuesday in closing arguments in the Cary man's lengthy murder trial.

But the state argued that the facts of the case prove otherwise – that the defendant repeatedly lied to police and that he had the means and motive to strangle Nancy Cooper.

Marking an end to eight weeks of testimony, nearly 100 witnesses and four hours of arguments, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings said little during the final three minutes of his presentation, dramatizing how long it would have taken Nancy Cooper to die.

Family and friends of the victim cried while Brad Cooper sat with no visible reaction.

"Now, she's dead," Cummings finally told jurors, who will decide on a verdict. "I ask you to find him guilty of first-degree murder."

In addition to a first-degree murder conviction, jurors can consider second-degree murder, as well as a not guilty verdict.

The state contends that Brad Cooper, 37, killed Nancy Cooper, 34, in the early hours of July 12, 2008, and dumped her body at a housing construction site 3 miles from their Cary home. The couples' marriage of seven years was troubled, they say, and Nancy Cooper was seeking a divorce.

Defense attorneys say Nancy Cooper went jogging around 7 a.m. the day she died and never returned home.

Earlier Tuesday, they outlined the testimony they said casts doubt on the state's case and raises questions about the ethics and work of the Cary Police Department.

Attorney Howard Kurtz said police dismissed accounts of people who thought they saw Nancy Cooper jogging and suggested that they ignored or tampered with evidence that didn't fit the theory that Brad Cooper killed his wife.

"The Cary Police Department had an agenda," he said. "They wanted desperately to show the citizens of Cary that their town was safe, that the police department was doing its job, that this wasn't a random act of violence."

Kurtz said police never tested footprints and tire tracks around the victim's body, erased her BlackBerry smartphone and allowed "a systematic tampering" of witnesses by Nancy Cooper's friends. Those friends, he said, created a "mythology" about the couple's troubled marriage that "bore little resemblance to the truth."

Prosecutors characterized the claims as nothing more than attempts to distract jurors.

Much of their argument focused on a 6:40 a.m. phone call on July 12, 2008, and a July 11, 2008, Google Maps search of the site where Nancy Cooper's body was found.

The state argued that Brad Cooper, an expert in Internet phone technology for Cisco Systems in Research Triangle Park, might have staged the call from his home phone to his cellphone so that it appeared his wife was alive.

Investigators never recovered any computer equipment, including a special router, that could have enabled him to make the call, but he had access to it and had used it on the home phone earlier that year, Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said.

"He had all the ingredients to make this phone call happen," Zellinger said. "We don't know exactly where that router is, (but) that doesn't mean that the defendant didn't instigate that phone call."

One piece of evidence that defense attorneys couldn't dispute, he added, is the map search on Brad Cooper's password-protected Cisco laptop of Fielding Drive, where Nancy Cooper's body was found facedown in a drainage ditch on July 14, 2008.

"You cannot explain that away," he said. "Twelve hours before his wife was murdered, and he is zooming in on where his wife's body was ultimately found."

But Kurtz said nearly 700 files were tampered with on the computer, which police left running for 27 hours after they seized it during a search of the Cooper house. Every file related to the Google search had invalid timestamps, indicative of tampering, he said.

"The only opinion of tampering you've heard is Mr. Kurtz's," Zellinger said, adding that FBI computer experts found no indication of it.

"This timestamp is a red herring," he added. "They've dragged this across the courtroom floor to keep you from realizing the truth, the unalienable truth, the uncontroverted truth ... which is there is no tampering on that computer."

Defense attorney Robert Trenkle also argued that there is no physical evidence implicating Brad Cooper in the crime and that other elements in the case couldn't be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

"The house, the car, everywhere they tested – no blood, no bodily fluids, no evidence. Are you entirely convinced, fully satisfied?" he asked jurors. "Or do you have a reasonable doubt that Brad Cooper is not guilty?"

Admitting that the Cooper marriage was riddled with problems, including infidelity and financial issues, there were no indications that Brad Cooper was ever violent with his wife, Trenkle said, and Nancy Cooper's closest friends testified she was not afraid of her husband.

Kutz said that from the start of the investigation, police encouraged Nancy Cooper's friends to provide them with more information and that they asked the types of questions that would elicit more and more negative information about Brad Cooper.

"What we see in this case is an amazingly detailed investigation, but only detailed in one respect," Kurtz said. "The focus was exclusively to develop evidence on Brad Cooper."

The by-product, he said, was a form of "virtual justice."

"They are willing to do it in a desperate attempt to avoid having to face facing the truth about their own shoddy and unprofessional work throughout this case," Kurtz said. "Thomas Jefferson said he'd rather give up his right to vote than his right to a jury, and this case shows you why."