Local News

Slain mom's family gets permanent custody of her children

Posted May 15, 2009 9:17 a.m. EDT
Updated May 15, 2009 6:43 p.m. EDT

— The parents and sister of slain Cary mom Nancy Cooper reached an agreement with her husband Friday that places the couple's two young children in their custody permanently.

The agreement ends a nearly 10-month court battle that played out in the public eye, in part, while investigators sought clues and a suspect in Nancy Cooper's July 2008 slaying.

She was found July 14 in an undeveloped subdivision about 3 miles from her home. An autopsy found the 34-year-old was likely strangled. Brad Cooper, her husband, is charged with first-degree murder in the case.

Last fall, Wake County District Judge Debra Sasser awarded temporary custody to Nancy Cooper's parents, Garry and Donna Rentz, and sister, Krista Lister.

The children – Bella, 5, and Katie, 2 – are living in Canada with their grandparents and aunt, and Brad Cooper asked the court last month to keep in place the temporary order until after his criminal trial, saying it would be in the best interest of the children

A hearing on that motion had been scheduled for Friday, but the two sides agreed to the terms of a consent order.

The Rentzes said Friday they were pleased with the case's outcome and that the agreement is the best resolution for the children.

Deborah Sandlin, who represents Brad Cooper, said her client felt like it was the right thing to do at the time for "the consistency of the girls' care."

"I think we're all happy that these parties could work together to have some stability for the girls," Sandlin said. "Certainly, while Brad's awaiting trial, he's not able to care for the girls, and he did not want another disruption in their lives."

The order, which can only be appealed "upon a substantial change in circumstances," allows Brad Cooper, 35, to have two 15-minute phone conversations with his daughters each week and to be consulted on all major decisions involving the girls. He also will receive new photos of the girls every nine weeks.

If he is found not guilty, Sandlin said he can revisit the custody issue, because under law, it would be a substantial change in circumstances.

Brad Cooper, who is in the Wake County jail under a $2 million bond, has denied any role in his wife's death. He has said in court filings and a videotaped deposition that he last saw her on July 12 before she went jogging. When she did not return, he has said, he went looking for her.

Nancy Cooper's family testified during the temporary custody hearing in October that he was involved in her slaying. In custody filings, they claimed he was an unfit parent who was mentally unstable and was emotionally abusive to his wife in the months prior to her death.

No date has been set for Brad Cooper's criminal trial. If convicted, he could face life in prison. Prosecutors have said they do not plan to seek the death penalty.

Nearly a year after Nancy Cooper's death, friends and family have created a memorial fund in her name to help victims of abusive relationships leave them.

The inaugural event to raise money for Nancy’s Butterfly Fund will be June 13 at Life Time Fitness in Cary, where she was a member.

A 1.8-mile memorial fun run is also planned for July 11 – the day prior to the anniversary of Nancy Cooper's death – at Koka Booth Amphitheatre's Symphony Lake in Cary.