Local News

Jury selection begins in trial of man charged with five murders

Posted February 2, 2010 4:13 p.m. EST
Updated April 9, 2010 4:54 p.m. EDT

— Jury selection started Tuesday in the trial of a man accused of killing five people in a string of robberies in Wake County between May 2006 and November 2007.

Samuel James Cooper, 33, is charged in the shooting deaths of LeRoy Jernigan, 41, Ossama "Sam" Haj-Hussein, 43; Timothy David Barnwell, 34; Ricky High, 48; and Tariq Hussain, 52.

After police arrested Cooper on a bank robbery charge, the State Bureau of Investigation linked a handgun in his possession to the slayings.

After Cooper’s arrest, investigators found a 9 mm handgun that the State Bureau of Investigation linked to the slayings.

Prosecutors said it could take as long as a month to pick a jury in the case because Cooper will have one trial for all five murders, which is unprecedented in Wake County. He is facing the death penalty if convicted.

Cooper has a long criminal record, dating from 1993. It includes 10 arrests on a total of 19 charges, including assault on a police officer, escape from prison, robbery, assault on a female, drug charges and larceny. He had served more than 12 years in jail before his 2007 arrest.

Wake County sheriff's investigators say Cooper shot and killed Haj-Hussein on May 12, 2006.

Raleigh police believe Cooper shot and killed Jernigan, 41, of Clayton, less than a month later.

In 2007, according to authorities, he killed Barnwell on April 27, High on Oct. 12 and Hussain Oct. 14.

Authorities believe robbery was the motive in each case.

Cooper was shackled, handcuffed and surrounded by deputies as he entered the courtroom Tuesday.

“I think it’s been the waiting part that’s been so hard on all of us,” said Chasity Jernigan, whose brother, LeRoy Jernigan, was killed as he cleaned the Circus restaurant after hours on June 3, 2006.

Jernigan said the family will be in the courtroom when testimony begins March 15.

“Forgiving the sinner, hating the sin,” she said. “(It is) very difficult when you've had a loved one like that taken from you.”

Investigators said Cooper confessed to the crimes after prosecutors agreed to dismiss a charge against his father, who had been arrested on a charge of possession of a stolen firearm by a felon.

Defense attorneys made a motion last month to keep Cooper's confession out of evidence at trial, but the judge denied that motion.