Nancy Cooper

Expert: Cooper's home computer network was vulnerable

Posted April 20, 2011 2:14 p.m. EDT
Updated April 25, 2011 9:44 a.m. EDT

— Jurors on Wednesday saw how Brad Cooper's home computer network could have easily been hacked and how someone might have been able to copy files onto his laptop computer without logging into it.

Cooper, 37, is on trial for first-degree murder in the July 12, 2008, strangling death of his wife, Nancy Cooper, 34. Her body was found two days later in an undeveloped subdivision 3 miles from their Cary home.

The defendant has said that Nancy Cooper went for a jog that morning and never returned.

Defense attorneys contend that police might have tampered with hundreds of files on their client's computer to implicate him in his wife's death.

Jay Ward, an expert in network security and vulnerability assessment, testified for the defense that a myriad of threats could have existed on Brad Cooper's computer network during a 27-hour window in which Cary police took the computer into custody and powered down the device.

Ward demonstrated through a video how someone could transfer files to a computer without logging into it, using free software from the Internet.

He also explained with another video about how someone could have hacked into the computer and moved files. Ward testified Tuesday that the security on Brad Cooper's wireless network wasn't strong, and he likened it to trying to keep intruders out of a house with a screen door.

Prosecutors repeatedly objected to the defense's line of questioning Wednesday, saying attorneys were asking Ward questions about computer forensics, which Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner ruled on Tuesday are beyond his scope of expertise.

On cross-examination, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger tried to discredit Ward by introducing a printout of Ward's Facebook page, in which Ward talked about having an interest in conspiracy theories.

Attorney Howard Kurtz said the page was irrelevant to the case and had no bearing on Ward's credibility as an expert witness.

But Zellinger said it was indicative that he could not secure his own personal information.

Ward's interest in conspiracy theories, Zellinger added, was also relevant since the defense claims Cary police conspired against their client and that Ward wasn't being paid for his service.

Investigators say that Brad Cooper, a former employee of Cisco Systems Inc. in Research Triangle Park, could have used his expertise in Voice over Internet Protocol technology to fake a phone call from his home to his cellphone, which would make it appear as if Nancy Cooper was still alive in the morning of the day she disappeared.

Earlier witnesses testified for the state about Brad Cooper's knowledge of computers and electronics, and an FBI agent said last week that, on the day before Nancy Cooper disappeared, Brad Cooper's Cisco laptop accessed maps on of the site where her body was found.

Defense attorneys have described Cary police work as inept and dishonest. They say investigators focused on their client early in the case and ignored evidence that could have helped find the real killer.

Wednesday marked the second day of testimony for Brad Cooper's defense. Attorneys have indicated that they expect their case to last about two weeks.

Several witnesses, including a babysitter and a teacher at the preschool where the Coopers' daughters attended, also testified Wednesday that they never saw Brad and Nancy Cooper arguing and that Brad Cooper seemed to be a good father to his girls.

Family and friends of Nancy Cooper have testified throughout the trial that, prior to her death, the Coopers were having marital problems because of finances and an affair by Brad Cooper.

Christopher Wall, who met Brad Cooper at a volleyball game in 2001, said he and his wife were friends with the couple up until late 2005, when they lost touch.

He ran into them at a Raleigh amusement park in 2008, two weeks before Nancy Cooper went missing.

"They appeared to be normal and happy," he said, adding that he didn't know about the marital issues.