Judge denies motion to dismiss Cooper custody case
Posted October 13, 2008 9:07 a.m. EDT
Updated October 14, 2008 1:52 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — A Wake County District Court judge denied a motion Monday to dismiss a temporary custody case involving the two young daughters of Brad Cooper and his slain wife – meaning she could decide as early as Thursday if they will stay in the care of their mother's family.
Cooper's attorney, Lynn Prather, argued there was no evidence to support allegations by Nancy Cooper's parents, Garry and Donna Rentz, that her client had been emotionally abusive to and financially controlling of his wife in the months before she was killed.
A man walking his dog found Nancy Cooper strangled in an undeveloped subdivision three miles from her Cary home on July 14, two days after a friend reported her missing. Brad Cooper told police his wife went jogging on July 12 and never returned.
Steve Mansbury, an attorney for Nancy Cooper's family, said Monday that the defendant's motion to dismiss was "frivolous."
"It's clear they know what this case is about," Mansbury said. "We are going to try and prove that Brad Cooper was involved in the murder of Nancy Cooper."
Cary police have not named any suspects in Nancy Cooper's death, and Brad Cooper has denied being involved. According to search warrants in the case, however, he has been a focus of investigators' interest.
Judge Debra Sasser's ruling came following Cooper's attorneys on Friday subpoenaing Cary police to turn over to them by 10 a.m. Tuesday all evidence relating to the murder investigation, including notes, personal property, physical evidence, computers and videos.
Town of Cary spokeswoman Susan Moran said Monday evening that the police department was consulting with legal counsel on how to proceed.
“In situations like this, where we receive requests for information, it’s our practice to refer such requests to our attorneys and to look to them for direction on how and when to respond,” she said.
Prather argued Monday that the Rentzes' assertion that her client was involved in his wife's death is based on "hearsay and belief," but Sasser said the allegations are enough of a concern for the children's wellbeing for the custody case to proceed.
"I have to deem enough facts in the allegation as truth," she said. "It doesn't matter if they can prove it or not, at this point."
Among other allegations by the Rentzes, as well as Nancy Cooper's sister, Krista Lister, were that Brad Cooper had an extramarital affair and that he also tried to commit suicide as a teenager and had threatened suicide earlier this year.
Prather, again, argued there is not enough evidence to substantiate the suicide claims and that Cooper's admitted infidelity "has no bearing on the fitness of a parent."
Brad Cooper has stated in affidavits that the couple had been trying to work on their marriage, strained by the affair on his part and financial problems caused by his wife's excessive spending.
Meanwhile Monday, on what would have been the Coopers' eighth wedding anniversary, attorneys for the family filed an affidavit from a woman who says she was once engaged to Brad Cooper.
Jennifer Windsor Ball says in the document, dated Oct. 12, that Cooper was emotionally abusive and mentally cruel to her while they lived together in a Calgary, Alberta, apartment from September 1997 to December 1998.
Ball, who now lives in Hawaii, claims that Cooper "frequently berated" her about her appearance and made derogatory comments about her to other people.
She also says she was fearful for her physical safety at the end of their relationship and that after they broke up, Brad Cooper reportedly began "secretly accessing" her apartment, even after his name had been removed from the lease and he had moved into another apartment in the same building.
"Brad's behavior was creepy, and I was so disturbed by it that I broke my lease agreement and moved away so that I would not have to remain in the same building with him," Ball stated.
Ball said she contacted the Rentzes' attorney, Alice Stubbs, on Saturday after she learned of Brad Cooper's Oct. 2 deposition video for the custody case, in which he talks about her. She stated she believes he intentionally gave Stubbs an incorrect last name – although she does not say why.
Last week, Cary police Det. George Daniels cast doubts on Cooper's statements, stating in an affidavit that those he made to police in the early days of the murder case differed from his testimony in that deposition.
Cooper's attorney, Howard Kurtz, said Monday that it is "highly unlikely" that anyone would be able to describe events in exactly the same way as they did three months earlier, but the important facts surrounding Nancy Cooper's death remain the same.
Daniels also stated Cooper had been uncooperative with police, but Kurtz cited a scheduling conflict. He said police asked Cooper to go to the police station at the same time depositions in the custody case were scheduled.
Kurtz said he has told investigators his client cannot meet with them until after the custody hearing, "which is of high priority to Brad."