Local News

Cook jurors wanted lengthier sentence

Posted March 1, 2011 11:49 a.m. EST
Updated March 2, 2011 5:20 a.m. EST

— Members of the jury that convicted a Raleigh doctor in the September 2009 drunk driving death of ballerina Elena Bright Shapiro said Tuesday they were upset that a more-lengthy sentence wasn’t an option.

Jurors found Raymond Cook guilty of involuntary manslaughter, felony death by motor vehicle and driving while impaired earlier Tuesday, after 11 hours of deliberations over three days. By law, Cook could only be sentenced on one of the charges.

Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III sentenced Cook to between 36 months and 53 months in prison – the maximum allowed – for the felony death by motor vehicle charge because the jury agreed with the prosecution that an aggravating factor existed.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys both agreed that Cook, a former facial plastic surgeon, was drunk and driving at least 75 mph in a 45-mph speed zone on the evening of Sept. 11, 2009, when he crashed into the back of Shapiro's Hyundai Elantra at Strickland and Lead Mine roads in Raleigh. 

The state argued that in addition to charges of driving while impaired and felony death by motor vehicle, Cook was guilty of second-degree murder.

Jurors said they wearily agreed to convict Cook of involuntary manslaughter only after two of the 12 jurors refused to convict on second-degree murder.

“Two of the jurors just could not agree. Everything was ‘What if, what if,’ and they would not look at the facts,” juror Wendy Smith said.

Smith felt Cook deserved to be in jail for life.

“He knowingly sped through an intersection with a very high chance that he would take a life. So, we felt like second-degree murder was very appropriate," she said.

Jury foreman Andrew Miller said deliberations were intense.

"Towards the end, it did become very emotional for people," he said.

Cook was sentenced following heartfelt pleas from Shapiro’s family.

"It was no accident. It wasn't just a wreck. It was a deliberate act. It was a deliberate act by Dr. Cook who knew better, but chose to get into that lethal weapon and kill our darling Elena," Shapiro's aunt, Annie Bright, said to the judge.

Shapiro's parents also spoke to the judge.

"It's obvious to me that Cook is a narcissist whose only concern is for himself," Shapiro's father, David Shapiro, said.

Brantly Shapiro spoke about the loss of her daughter.

"When something like this happens, you feel like you failed to keep them safe," she said.

Bright said she wished that Cook's family members, who knew he had a drinking problem, had taken the car "keys away from him a long time ago."

During the sentencing hearing, prosecutors argued that Cook's sentence should be increased due to a DWI and speeding arrest in Georgia in 1989 where Cook pleaded no contest.

Prosecutors also played a DVD tribute to Shapiro which was shown during her memorial service. The video showed Shapiro throughout her dancing career, performing and posing for photos with family and friends.

During the video, Cook could be seen crying for the first time during the trial.

Defense attorneys submitted character references from Cook’s colleagues and patients, in addition to proof that Cook completed a drug and alcohol treatment program. The defense said Cook was randomly tested for alcohol use multiple times by the program and was shown to be clean.

They said Cook was randomly tested for alcohol use multiple times by the program and was shown to be clean.

He has not had alcohol since the incident and regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, in addition to meeting with an addiction psychologist, his attorneys said.

They also said Cook voluntarily resigned from his medical position following the incident.