Local News

Samuel Cooper found guilty in shooting deaths

Posted April 6, 2010 3:04 p.m. EDT
Updated April 19, 2010 5:18 p.m. EDT

— A jury convicted Samuel James Cooper Tuesday of five counts of first-degree murder in a series of shootings in which five men were killed over a 17-month period.

The jury deliberated for about five hours before unanimously reaching the verdict. Cooper showed no emotion when the verdict was read.

Following a sentencing hearing, which begins 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, jurors will decide whether Cooper should get the death penalty or a life prison sentence.

Cooper, 33, was arrested Nov. 21, 2007, following a robbery at a Garner Bank of America, and ballistics testing later connected him to the slayings of Ossama Haj-Hussein, 43, LeRoy Jernigan, 41, Timothy Barnwell, 34, Ricky High, 48, and Tariq Hussain, 52.

The jury also found Cooper guilty of the bank robbery that led to his arrest.

"I was glad," Barnwell's mother, Phyllis Barnwell, said of the verdict.

Her son was at home in his second-floor North Raleigh apartment on April 27, 2007, when Cooper handcuffed, hogtied and duct-taped him and then ransacked his apartment looking for drugs and money. Barnwell, 34, managed to jump over the balcony before Cooper shot him five times.

"All I can think of is that Tim is no longer in pain," his mother said. "I am, but a very evil, dangerous person has been removed from our community."

The verdict was also a comfort for Jernigan's family.

"I really can't explain it," his sister, Chasity Jernigan, said. "There's just a relief off my chest. There are no words to explain it."

Jernigan, 41, was cleaning the Circus Restaurant at Wake Forest Road on June 3, 2006, when Cooper, thinking Jernigan was the manager, encountered him in the kitchen and shot him from close range once to the head.

He and his wife, Sherry Jernigan, would have celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary Wednesday. She likened the verdict to a gift.

"Everything comes back – happiness, sadness, everything you can imagine," she said. "I'm just glad to know (Cooper) will be where he can't hurt anybody again."

At issue in the trial was not whether Cooper committed the crimes, but whether he acted with premeditation and deliberation at the times of the shootings – two of the three necessary elements that prosecutors must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, for a first-degree murder conviction.

Defense attorneys argued that Cooper suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative disorder as a result of years of abuse by his father, and at the time the shootings, he was absent of any emotions and in a delusional state.

The state argued that Cooper is not a victim but a "cold-blooded killer" who was deliberate in the crimes, knew that they were wrong and went to great lengths to hide evidence that could link him to them.

"This is not a case about post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociation. This is a case about choices," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden said during closing arguments Monday. "The defendant made those choices. He has the ability to make those choices. There's no doubt."

More than three dozen witnesses testified over 12 days during the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial. Dozens more are expected to testify during the sentencing phase.