Nancy Cooper

Friend sought out domestic violence help for Nancy Cooper

Posted April 1, 2011 8:55 a.m. EDT
Updated April 4, 2011 9:30 a.m. EDT

— A friend of Nancy Cooper said Friday that she was so concerned for her friend and her troubled marriage that she reached out to a local domestic violence crisis center for help.

Prosecutors have said that Brad Cooper, 37, strangled his wife in the early-morning hours of July 12, 2008, and dumped her body in a drainage ditch 3 miles from their Cary home.

Brad Cooper has claimed she went jogging and that she never returned home.

Susan Crook testified during Brad Cooper's murder trial that she called InterAct of Wake County in February 2008 after Nancy Cooper discovered she had been cut off from the couple's bank accounts while trying to pay a water bill.

"It wasn't just one particular item, it was bits and pieces coupled with the fact that I knew they were in the process of separation," said Crook, a former assistant director for the N.C. Domestic Violence Commission.

One of those things was Nancy Cooper wanting to take her children and move to Canada after her husband after he admitted to an affair with one of her friends.

"From my professional experience, I know that it can be very dangerous when a couple is in a separation – or a victim tries to leave," Crook said. "It can incite violence and things of that nature."

Crook said that after her call to InterAct, she gave the phone number to Nancy Cooper. It was unclear whether she ever sought counseling from the agency.

Brad Cooper's defense team pointed out that there's been no indication that their client ever physically abused his wife. Witnesses have also testified that Nancy Cooper related to them that she wasn't afraid of her husband.

Crook's testimony brought strong objections from defense attorneys, who argued that the testimony's potential to prejudice the jury outweighed its relevance.

"The involvement of an agency geared toward protection against domestic violence is inherently prejudicial," defense attorney Howard Kurtz said.

"I think it's incredibly relevant that someone saw this situation from an outsider's perspective and said, 'Hey, there's something bad going on here, and I need to make sure all the resources in this county are available to Nancy Cooper,'" Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger responded.

Also testifying Friday was Cary police officer David Hazelzet, who saw what appeared to be several pieces of straw on a rug in the foyer of the Cooper home when he went there on July 15, 2008.

That was the day after Nancy Cooper's body had been found in a drainage ditch in an undeveloped subdivision off Fielding Drive outside Cary's town limits.

"It drew my attention, because earlier in the morning, I was on Fielding Drive and observed what appeared to be the same substance covering the grass that was growing," he said.

Real estate broker Thomas Garrett also took the stand, saying Nancy Cooper had left him a voicemail on Thursday, July 10, 2008, about helping her find another place to live.

"It sounded, to me, urgent," he said. "She said, 'I need to have a place as soon as possible. Give me a call.'"

Garrett said he contacted her later that day to tell her he would email some housing information for her to review over the weekend, and the two planned to meet the following week to discuss them.

He said he saw on the news two days before that meeting that Nancy Cooper was missing.

Her disappearance prompted a massive ground search for two days along jogging trails, lakes and parks in Cary.

Nancy Cooper's friend, David Fetterolf, who testified Thursday and Friday morning, said that he was with Brad Cooper when they found a shovel behind a home near Lochmere Lake on July 14, 2008. Investigators later determined it to be unrelated to the case.

Fetterolf said that, when he first saw Brad Cooper that day, his head was down, his shoulders were slumped and he was sniffling.

But as they searched and after they found the shovel, Fetterolf said, his demeanor changed and their conversation turned from his appreciation for Fetterolf's help to how the two had the same model of cellphone. Brad Cooper asked him to show him how to check the phone's call log.

“It was almost like a 180-degree change," Fetterolf said. "I was almost surprised that he would be asking me something like that at this time."

Several months later at a court hearing, he said, he saw Brad Cooper's attorney hand the phone to Brad Cooper’s mother.

Defense attorneys also objected to that line of questioning, saying it implied that attorneys might have deleted data on the phone.

Friday marked the 17th day of testimony in the prosecution’s case. More than three dozen witnesses, including 15 Cary police officers, have testified, and prosecutors have yet to provide any physical evidence linking Brad Cooper to his wife's death.

Defense attorneys contend that Brad Cooper is innocent and that Cary police focused solely on their client as a suspect, tampered with Brad Cooper's computer, deleted data from Nancy Cooper's cellphone and ignored or delayed looking at other evidence that could have helped find her killer.