Local News

Jury begins deliberating in Cooper sentencing

Posted April 16, 2010 10:33 a.m. EDT
Updated April 16, 2010 11:47 a.m. EDT

— A Wake County jury began deliberating Friday morning the fate of a Raleigh man convicted of shooting to death five men over a 17-month period.

Samuel James Cooper, 33, will be sentenced to either death or life in prison for the murders of Ossama Haj-Hussein, 43, LeRoy Jernigan, 41, Timothy Barnwell, 34, Ricky High, 48, and Tariq Hussain, 52.

"It could go either way," said Lance Edwards, 23, who served as an alternate juror in the trial. "There are a couple people that are going to take some convincing to get the death penalty."

Defense attorneys asked jurors Thursday for compassion and understanding for their client, saying he was a product of an abusive family environment that taught him nothing but fear and violence.

The severe beatings Cooper suffered at the hands of his father, from as early as 3 months old, "literally broke his mind," causing him to become detached emotionally, his attorneys argued.

At the time of the crimes, he had no feelings and acted impulsively because of post-traumatic stress disorder and another mental disorder identified as dissociation.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden argued on Thursday that Cooper is a serial killer who shot his victims in cold blood. He might have some mental issues, he said, but none of them affected his ability to form a specific intent to kill.

"If this case and these crimes aren't deserving of the death penalty, then what is?" Cruden asked jurors, as photos behind him showed each of the victims as they were found at the crime scenes.

Authorities arrested Cooper on Nov. 21, 2007, following a Garner bank robbery and charged him with the murders six days later.

Investigators linked a 9 mm handgun used in the robbery to evidence at each of the crime scenes.

Cooper also confessed to each killing. Jurors found Cooper guilty last week of first-degree murder in each case, as well as one count of robbery with a firearm.

Superior Court Judge Henry Hight has already sentenced Cooper to 9 to 12 years in prison for the bank robbery.

Haj-Hussein was working at the In & Out Food Mart on Creech Road on May 12, 2006, when Cooper robbed him and shot him twice – at least once from close range.

Jernigan was cleaning the Circus Restaurant at 1600 Wake Forest Road on June 3, 2006, when Cooper shot him from close range once to the head.

Barnwell was shot five times outside his second-floor north Raleigh apartment on April 27, 2007. He had been handcuffed, hogtied and duct-taped while Cooper ransacked his apartment looking for drugs and money.

High was shot multiple times in the arm and back on Oct. 12, 2007, near St. Augustine's College.

Hussain was working inside Bobby's Grocery on Garner Road on Oct. 14, 2007, when Cooper shot him twice.

"We can't bring back the five lost men. It's too late," defense attorney Lisa Miles told jurors. "All we can do now is choose how to respond."

"In choosing life, you in no way diminish the humanity of these five very well-loved men. In choosing compassion, you do not forgive Sammy for these sorrowful deaths," she continued.

"Instead, you show your understanding that he was shaped and molded into something he didn't have to be and into something he didn't want to be – that he is not the worst of the worst."