Local News

Police detective says suspect confessed to murders

Posted November 16, 2009 10:57 a.m. EST
Updated April 9, 2010 4:54 p.m. EDT

— A convicted felon accused of killing five people in a string of robberies confessed to investigators and provided them with details of the crimes that were never made public.

That's according to a Raleigh police homicide detective who testified Monday during a motions hearing in which defense attorneys asked a judge to suppress their client's confession because it was coerced.

Samuel James Cooper was arrested Nov. 21, 2007, after he allegedly robbed a bank in Garner. Investigators found a 9 mm handgun that the State Bureau of Investigation linked to the slayings, which dated to May 2006.

Detective Amanda Salmon testified that Cooper initially denied being involved in the homicides but later confessed after prosecutors agreed to dismiss a charge against his father, who had been arrested on a count of possession of a stolen firearm by a felon.

Among the victims are LeRoy Jernigan, 41, who was found dead June 3, 2006, inside Circus Restaurant on Wake Forest Road in Raleigh.

Salmon testified that Cooper said Jernigan's shooting was a "misobservation" and that he wasn't sure why he shot him. Cooper provided information to detectives that would be known only by someone who had been at the crime scene, she said.

"(He was asked) why he shot him, and he said he couldn't remember the reason, right now," Salmon said. "(The detective) asked, 'How many times did you shoot him?' He said, 'I think once or twice.'"

In addition to Jernigan's death, Cooper is charged with murder in the slayings of Ossama "Sam" Haj-Hussein, 43; Timothy David Barnwell, 34; Ricky High, 48; and Tariq Hussain, 52.

Salmon testified about other details of Cooper's confessions. Among them:

Cooper said High's shooting death on Oct. 12, 2007, near St. Augustine's College was "a mistake." He allegedly told investigators that he started shooting at a group of gang members after one of them made an inappropriate comment to a female friend. He had to kill High, Salmon testified, because High could identify him.

In Hussain's Oct. 14, 2007, death at Bobby's Grocery on Garner Road, Cooper told investigators where he parked his car. "Everything he talked about were not facts that had been released to the media," Salmon testified.

Salmon also testified that Cooper admitted to killing Haj-Hussein in the back of the In & Out Food Mart on Creech Road in Raleigh on May 12, 2006, because he did not want Haj-Hussein to be able to identify him.

Cooper told investigators that he thought Barnwell would be a "good target," because he was "moving lots of pot," Salmon said. He said he knocked on the door of Barnwell's apartment on April 27, 2007, restrained Barnwell with duct tape and handcuffs, Salmon testified.

At some point, Barnwell jumped over the balcony – "The joker was on the ground," Salmon recalled Cooper saying. Cooper shot over the balcony and later wiped down the apartment to remove any fingerprints.

Investigators also testified that Cooper was unemotional when he talked about the killings. During Monday's hearing, he frequently smiled and laughed.

Jernigan's family was also present, and it was the first time they had seen Cooper in person.

"We wanted Samuel Cooper to know that (Leroy) was not just some dude – that he was a human being – and (Cooper) took a very important part of our family away from us," his sister, Chasity Jernigan, said.

"It's a daily struggle, something you hope you never have to face. This is something we don't wish on our worst enemies," she continued.

The motions hearing is expected to last several days, attorneys said.

The case was expected to go to trial in September, but both the defense and state have continually asked for the date to be moved. Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden said there are 64,000 pages of discovery.

According to court records, Cooper has a criminal record that dates to 1993 in Wake County and includes 10 arrests on 19 charges, including assault on a police officer, escape from prison, robbery, assault on a female, drug charges and larceny.

He was last released from prison in 2006.