Local News

Cooper's sister: Childhood was like 'living with the devil'

Posted March 29, 2010 11:52 a.m. EDT
Updated March 30, 2010 2:43 p.m. EDT

— Samuel James Cooper and his four siblings grew up in what one described Monday as "hell," as their father regularly beat and assaulted them and their mother was helpless to stop it.

At times, the violence got so bad that one of his sisters contemplated suicide; and Cooper and his two sisters even discussed a plan to kill their father, Samuel James Cooper Sr.

"It was like living with the devil," Charlene McCoy, testified Monday. "Coming home, you never knew one day or the next if he was going to be mad."

The elder Cooper would use a baseball bat, broomstick and his "weapon of choice," a leather belt, to beat them, McCoy testified.

Samuel Cooper Jr., or "Little Sammy," as his mother calls him, often got the worst of the beatings.

"All of us got assaulted, but Little Sammy and I were the ones who got the most beatings in the house," his mother Jacqueline Cooper testified.

It's that abuse, defense attorneys say, that is at issue in their client's capital murder trial.

They don't deny that Samuel Cooper Jr., 33, shot and killed Ossama Haj-Hussein, 43; LeRoy Jernigan, 41; Timothy Barnwell, 34; Ricky High, 48; and Tariq Hussain, 52 over a 17-month period in 2006 and 2007.

The trial – in its ninth day Monday – centers on Samuel Cooper's mental condition and whether he acted with premeditation and deliberation while carrying out the crimes.

The beatings, the defense argued during opening statements earlier this month, left him with diminished emotions and post-traumatic stress disorder that, in part, causes him to react without thought or consideration.

Samuel Cooper has shown little emotion during his trial, often sitting with his head bowed, but he did appear tearful Monday morning as his mother testified to the abuse the family suffered.

The first time Samuel Cooper Sr. hit his oldest son, Jacqueline Cooper said, was as a crying baby, about 3 or 4 months old.

"He took Little Sammy out of my hands, and he just took him and shook him real, real hard and threw him on the couch," she said. "Then he went over and popped him on the leg. I was upset. So he got mad, and he punched me in my face.”

From there, the abuse got worse, she continued. As he grew older, Samuel Cooper was beaten several times a week.

"I guess in his mind, he had a reason but it wasn't a reason for us," Samuel Cooper's sister, Diane Cooper, testified. "We could have done something real small and could have gotten a beating for it."

When he was 12 or 13, she said, his father tried to beat him in the head with a baseball bat so severely that he told Jacqueline Cooper to call an ambulance. Had Samuel Cooper not been able to get away from his father, family members testified, they had no doubt he would have died.

"Would your father have killed Sam?" defense attorney Stephen Freedman questioned McCoy.

"I believe it to this day that he would've," she said.

Diane Cooper testified that her brother changed over the years as the beatings continued. As he got older, she said, he isolated himself more, and he stopped crying when his father hit him.

That made their father angrier, McCoy said.

"Sam stopped crying, and that's when the beatings got worse," she said. "The belt wasn't making him cry, so that's when (the beatings) intensified. That's when you have the body blows, the broom sticks, the boys having to pull down their pants."

"He wouldn't respond. He would just sit. He looked like he was just spaced out," Jacqueline Cooper also testified.

Prosecutors, who rested their case Monday morning, have said that all but one of the shootings Samuel Cooper is charged in were committed during robberies.

In presenting their evidence, they painted Samuel Cooper as a calculated robber who never expressed remorse for the killings and knew exactly what he was doing at the time of the crimes.

During the second day of testimony, jurors heard an audio confession in which Samuel Cooper described to police detectives how he tried to shoot his victims above the neck to "avoid messes."

"'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," Samuel Cooper says.

Several investigators also testified about his demeanor during those interviews, in which they described as being relaxed, polite, engaging and cooperative. At times, they testified, he chuckled.