Local News

Samuel Cooper murder trial will resume Monday

Posted March 18, 2010 12:15 p.m. EDT
Updated March 22, 2010 6:18 p.m. EDT

— The murder trial will start up again next week for a Raleigh man accused of killing five men in a string of robberies spanning more than a year.

Superior Court Judge Henry Hight recessed proceedings Wednesday in the trial of Samuel James Cooper after one of his defense attorneys, Lisa Miles, got sick.

Testimony is scheduled to resume Monday, the court said Thursday.

Cooper, 33, faces five first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Ossama "Sam" Haj-Hussein, LeRoy Jernigan, Timothy Barnwell, Ricky High and Tariq Hussain– all were killed during a period spanning more than a year in 2006 and 2007.

If convicted, Cooper could face the death penalty.

Testimony ended Tuesday afternoon with a supervisor of one of the Raleigh Police Department's homicide squads testifying about how they linked Cooper to the slayings. (Read more about what happened in court Tuesday.)

Garner police arrested Cooper in November 2007 after a bank robbery and subsequent chase to a Domino's Pizza distribution center where his mother worked. He dropped a gun while running from police.

Ballistics testing matched the gun to evidence recovered from the five crime scenes.

Jurors also heard an audio interview Tuesday in which Cooper admitted to all five shootings and said he tried shooting above the neck to avoid being "messy."

"'Cause you shoot from the neck down, anything could happen," he says in the recording. "I mean, that person could identify you or anything."

"So you're telling me, basically, you shot in the head to make sure they were dead?" a police detective asks.

"To make sure they didn't talk," Cooper says.

Defense attorneys don't deny Cooper shot his victims, but they unsuccessfully sought to have the confession suppressed, arguing it was coerced.

The issue in the trial, they have said, is whether he acted with premeditation and deliberation.

His attorneys say that he has a diminished capacity from years of physical abuse at his father's hands, which affects his ability to think clearly, particularly in moments of stress.

"He does not have the same emotions that any of us do," defense attorney Stephen Freedman told jurors during opening statements Monday. "What happened to Sammy Cooper in the 17 years at home very much has to do with what happened at the time of the offenses … The fact is, that trigger was pulled years before these offenses ever occurred."