Mom recalls Nancy Cooper's strained marriage
Posted March 21, 2011 6:24 p.m. EDT
Updated March 22, 2011 2:42 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — The mother of Nancy Cooper took the stand Monday in the first-degree murder trial of her former son-in-law, Brad Cooper, recalling the couple's troubled marriage and the days before and after her daughter went missing.
Donna Rentz testified that she and her husband, Garry Rentz, were at a funeral in Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada on July 12, 2008, when they received the news. (Watch Rentz's testimony)
"Garry told me that Nancy had not returned from her morning run and was missing," Rentz said. "We were walking out, and he turned to me and said, 'Donna, this story is not going to have a happy ending.'"
The pair, as well as Nancy Cooper's twin sister, arrived in Cary two days later, hours before a man discovered the 34-year-old mother's body in a drainage ditch in a construction area just outside Cary's town limit.
At a church vigil the next day, Donna Rentz said, she had her first contact with Brad Cooper, in a ball cap with his head bowed.
"He just stood there. I just didn't get it. He didn't even look at me – this man I loved," Rentz testified.
The two hugged, and she looked under his cap into his eyes.
"I knew in my heart that he had murdered my daughter," she said.
Brad Cooper, 37, was indicted on a first-degree murder charge more than three months later and is now facing a possible life prison sentence if he's found guilty.
Prosecutors have said that Brad and Nancy Cooper's marriage was falling apart and that Brad Cooper had cut off his wife financially and taken their two young daughters' passports, because she wanted to move to Canada with the children.
Defense attorneys have said Brad Cooper was trying to save the couple from "financial ruin" and had put his wife on a weekly allowance. A Canadian citizen, she was not legally able to work in the United States.
Rentz testified that, while on a vacation to China in early 2008, she received what she described as a frantic call from her daughter when the water had been disconnected.
"She was totally distraught. She said to us that Brad was acting crazy," Rentz said. "He had cut her off from their banking sources. He had cut off all her credit cards, and she said he had cut off the water."
"Nancy was trapped," Rentz continued, adding that she wanted to believe the water had been disconnected because the bill hadn't been paid. "She had no money, no access to money, no access to credit, no access to banking," she said. "She couldn't pay that water bill."
By April 2008, Rentz testified, the Coopers had talked about separating and different scenarios, which included each of them taking a child.
Nancy Cooper had also borrowed money from her parents to retain a divorce attorney, and Rentz said plans for her to return to Canada had also changed.
"She felt that Brad had seen the separation agreement and realized the implication for alimony and support payments," Rentz testified.
By summer 2008, the Rentzes were planning a trip to North Carolina to visit their daughter and to take her and the girls on a vacation. They spent the last few days of June and first few days of July at High Rock Lake near Charlotte.
During the days, they would spend time on the lake or in the water, swimming and fishing. In the evenings, they spent time together around a bonfire, eating s'mores every night, Rentz said.
"We sang songs. We told stories," she recalled. "It was a lot of fun."
At no time during the trip, Rentz testified, did she remember Brad Cooper calling his wife.
They traveled to Hilton Head, S.C., for a few days afterward, and the trip ended on July 6, when the Rentzes returned to Canada.
Nancy Cooper saw her family off from the airport, her mother said. It was the last moment she saw her daughter alive.
"It was time to go to the departure gate. I had Nancy in my arms," Rentz said. "She was sobbing. She said, 'Mom, I just want to come home,' and we couldn't take her with us because Brad had the passports."