Local News

Jury begins deliberations in Cook murder trial

Posted February 25, 2011 9:06 a.m. EST
Updated February 28, 2011 4:36 p.m. EST

— Jurors deliberated for a few hours Friday afternoon without reaching a verdict in the murder trial of a man charged with second-degree murder for a 2009 crash that killed an aspiring ballerina.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that Dr. Raymond Cook, a former facial plastic surgeon, was drunk and driving too fast on Sept. 11, 2009, when he crashed into the back of Elena Bright Shapiro's Hyundai Elantra at Strickland and Lead Mine roads.

However, they disagreed on the charges in the case and one word – "malice" – which determines the difference between second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden asked jurors to find Cook guilty of second-degree murder.

"He never intended to hurt Elena. He never intended to kill Elena," Cruden said. "(But) it's going to come down to one word – malice. Malice is not hatred, ill-will or spite ... Malice arises when an act, which is inherently dangerous to human life, is intentionally done so recklessly and wantonly ... without regard for human life."

Cruden credited Cook for giving Shapiro mouth-to-mouth resuscitation at the crash scene, but said Cook never inquired about her condition after she was taken to the hospital.

"Did he ever once ask, 'How’s Elena? How’s that girl that I hit?' He never once asked," Cruden said.

Shapiro's mother buried her head in her husband's shoulder as Cruden showed jurors a picture of her daughter smiling and then a picture of her dead.

Defense attorney Roger Smith Jr. told jurors that it's natural to feel sadness and anger over what Cook did. However, he said, Cook is not guilty of murder.

"We have a good man sitting over here with a wife and two kids, (a man) who had too much to drink and drove too fast. (But) it’s not close on murder. The law is clear on that," Smith said. "There’s nothing about him that’s evil. There’s nothing about him that’s cruel."

Smith also talked about Cook's efforts to help Shapiro, 20, after the crash and said Cook "put his mouth on her mouth that was covered in blood."

Cook is accused of traveling at least 75 to 82 mph and crashing into Shapiro's car. The posted speed limit in that area is 45 mph.

An emergency room doctor testified last week that Cook's blood-alcohol concentration was 0.24. An alcohol testing expert testified Tuesday that Cook's blood-alcohol concentration may have been closer to 0.20. Defense attorneys argued that scientific standard deviation could drop that number to 0.17.

Under North Carolina law, a driver is considered impaired with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08.

Witnesses testified that Cook drank alcohol at the Raleigh Country Club and later at Piper's Tavern prior to the fatal crash.

Defense attorneys haven’t denied that Cook had been drinking but contended in opening statements last week that he’s innocent of second-degree murder because of his attempt to help Shapiro after the crash.

Prosecutors have contended that, because Cook had been drinking, the wreck was not an accident.

Prosecutors offered Cook a plea deal in May, but he and his lawyer never agreed to it. Since the wreck, he surrendered his medical license and completed a stint at a rehab clinic.

Jurors are expected to resume deliberations Monday morning.