Local News

Slain mom's husband could have to testify in custody case

Posted July 21, 2008 5:26 p.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2008 12:25 a.m. EDT

— A slain Cary woman's husband would likely have to testify at a custody hearing if he wants to remain the legal guardian of his two children – currently in temporary care of their maternal grandparents, a family-law attorney says.

The parents and twin sister of Nancy Cooper, 34, were awarded emergency custody last Wednesday of her daughters, Bella 4, and Katie, who turns 2 this week.

In a petition for custody, they allege the children's father, Brad Cooper, is mentally unstable and poses a threat to the children. They claim he emotionally abused his wife and children, had threatened to kill himself last winter, withheld funds for their basic needs and had a sexual relationship with another woman.

Cooper did not consent to the emergency order, his attorney, Seth Blum said.

"He's a mess," Blum said of his client Monday. "His wife has been killed. His children are not in his custody."

Authorities have not named Cooper a suspect and have said he has been cooperative with the investigation. Blum said Friday his client has answered all questions and has told them he did not kill his wife.

But if Cooper were to testify, that could mean he could be cross-examined under oath about the murder case, Mark Sullivan, a Raleigh attorney who practices family law and is not involved in the case, said.

"Even then, if he goes into court, he may take the Fifth Amendment and insist on the privilege against self-incrimination if he's called to stand."

Another option, Sullivan said, would be for Cooper to wait for the criminal case to be resolved and then return to the custody issue.

Blum said Monday that Cooper will be at the hearing, scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, but he did not know if his client would testify.

Nancy Cooper, 34, was reported missing July 12 when she failed to meet up with a friend as planned. Brad Cooper told police she had gone out for a jog that morning and never returned.

Two days later, a man walking his dog found her body, wearing little clothing, in an undeveloped subdivision outside Cary's town limit – less than three miles from the Coopers' home.

Cary police have not named any suspects or persons of interest in the homicide, although they have said they do not believe the crime was random.(Cary police are handling the case, because under state law, law enforcement jurisdiction belongs to the municipality where investigators believe a crime occurred.)

Friends, family and the community held a public memorial service in Cary Saturday for Nancy Cooper. Another memorial service is scheduled for Wednesday in Edmonton, Alberta, where Nancy Cooper's parents live.

Blum said his client, who did not attend Saturday's service, would not attend Wednesday's either because "he feels his presence would be a distraction."

Instead, Cooper will have a private ceremony with friends, Blum said.