Nancy Cooper

Judge suppresses expert witness for Cooper defense

Posted April 25, 2011 11:26 a.m. EDT
Updated April 25, 2011 5:52 p.m. EDT

— The judge presiding over the first-degree murder trial of a Cary man accused of killing his wife suppressed testimony Monday from an expert defense witness, saying prosecutors didn't have enough time to prepare for cross-examination.

Defense attorneys for Brad Cooper notified the state last week about their intention to call Giovanni Masucci to testify about computer forensics after Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner ruled another witness could not be tendered as an expert witness in the area.

Masucci was expected to testify Monday, but Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said that he didn't receive a three-page report on the witness's findings until Saturday.

That wasn't enough notice to adequately research the results or consult with FBI computer experts who were away on assignments, Zellinger said.

Zellinger added that he also had concerns about the findings, because they were based on tests and data from the previous defense expert, Jay Ward.

"The prejudicial effect far outweighs the probative value of this evidence, at this time," Gessner ruled.

Prosecutors say that Brad Cooper, 37, strangled his wife in their Cary home in the early-morning hours of July 12, 2008, and dumped her body at a construction site in a neighborhood 3 miles from their home.

The state's case relies mostly on evidence found on Brad Cooper's computer of a Google Maps search of the site where Nancy Cooper's body was found. It was made one day before she went missing, according to an FBI computer forensics expert.

Brad Cooper has said his wife went jogging around 7 a.m. that day and never returned home.

His attorneys have questioned Cary police investigators' work in the case, accusing them of ignoring witnesses and evidence, tampering with the defendant's computer and purposely deleting data from Nancy Cooper's BlackBerry Pearl smartphone, which could have helped find the real killer.

Ben Levitan, an expert in wireless telephone systems, testified Monday that the phone wasn't properly protected while in police custody and that the account of how Cary police investigator Jim Young wiped the phone was inconsistent with the actual process of deleting the data.

Young testified that he accidentally wiped the phone in August 2008 while trying to unlock it based on the cellphone provider's instructions.

Levitan said that, based on documentation he received with the phone from Cary police, it was clear to him that Young was not an expert in cellphone technology, in part, because he used incorrect terminology.

Levitan spent most of Monday on the witness stand, but jurors also got to hear from Scott Heider, a Cooper family friend, with whom Brad Cooper stayed in the days following the discovery of Nancy Cooper's body on July 14, 2008.

"Brad was lost. Stunned. Dazed," Heider said.

Witnesses, including friends and relatives of Nancy Cooper, have testified that the Coopers were in the process of separating after he admitted in early 2008 to an affair with Heider's wife at the time, Heather Metour.

By the end of 2006, Heider testified, the two couples' relationships became strained, but prior to that, the Coopers appeared to have a typical relationship.

Nancy Cooper, he said, was an extrovert – ''gregarious, sociable" – while her husband was quiet and reserved, Heider testified. "He kept his thoughts to himself."