Nancy Cooper

Witnesses: Police slow to follow up on Nancy Cooper leads

Posted April 21, 2011 2:17 p.m. EDT
Updated April 25, 2011 11:33 a.m. EDT

— More than a half dozen witnesses testified Thursday in the murder trial of Brad Cooper that they thought police were slow in responding to leads they had that might have been relevant to his wife's disappearance nearly three years ago.

"I was upset for a long time," said Rosemary Zednick, who said she made numerous attempts to contact police officers about an encounter she had with a female jogger matching Nancy Cooper's description on the morning of July 12, 2008.

She talked to police in mid-October.

"My mindset was: 'The poor girl is missing. What happened? Why don't you call me back?'" she said.

Zednick testified that she was walking her dog on Lochmere Drive in Cary around 7:10 a.m. that day when she came face to face with a woman. The two spoke to one another and they both went on their way. The encounter lasted about 2 seconds, she said.

The next day, Zednick said, she saw a missing-person flier with Nancy Cooper's photo on it. She realized it was the jogger from the previous day, she said.

"I was really confident. That's what upset me," Zednick said. "I thought she got hit by a car. Joggers are out, and sometimes, drivers are not friendly to bikers and joggers."

During cross-examination, Zednick said she initially told police that she thought the jogger had an iPod but said Thursday that she never saw the device and just assumed she was carrying one. Witnesses have previously testified that Nancy Cooper did not usually run with an iPod or music player.

A friend reported Nancy Cooper missing on July 12, 2008, after her husband Brad Cooper said she went for a jog around 7 a.m. and never returned home.

Prosecutors contend that Brad Cooper killed his wife in their Cary home sometime around 12:30 a.m. that day. Two days later, a man discovered her body 3 miles away in a drainage ditch in the Oaks at Meadowridge subdivision.

Defense attorneys have accused police of ignoring evidence and more than a dozen witnesses, including Zednick, who had information that could have helped them find Nancy Cooper's real killer.

George Daniels, the lead detective in the case, testified last week that information was collected from those witnesses when they initially contacted police and that investigators followed up on all valid leads.

In October 2008, Daniels said, investigators interviewed those whom defense attorneys claim were ignored to be sure they didn't have any other information that could assist in the investigation.

Curtis Hodges is another witness that defense attorneys say Cary police ignored for three months.

Hodges said he was driving north on Kildaire Farm Road between 6:50 a.m. and 7:10 a.m. on July 12, 2008, when he saw an older-model Chevrolet van, with two Hispanic men inside, turn around and follow a jogger matching Nancy Cooper's description.

The next day, when he arrived at work at Food Lion, he saw the missing-person flier.

"I picked it up and looked at it, and I noticed that this picture of this lady looked real (similar) to the lady I saw jogging Saturday morning," Hodges said. "I was a little surprised."

He said he contacted police and that he was 90 percent sure the jogger was Nancy Cooper.

Christina Wells, a friend of Nancy Cooper, said she tried talking to police three times within 10 days to tell them about a relationship Nancy Cooper purportedly had with a Florida man when she and her husband moved from Canada to Cary in 2001.

It wasn't until the third time that an officer called her back for a phone interview, she said.

Wells testified that Nancy Cooper confided to her in 2001 that she had been in love with the man and that he was going to try to help her get a green card so she could get a job and leave her husband.

On cross-examination, Wells admitted to losing touch with her friend and said she never knew anything else about that relationship or the Coopers’ marriage.

Sylvia Hink, a 23-year resident of Oaks at Meadowridge, testified that she approached police on July 15 about two Hispanic men she saw with a van the day after Nancy Cooper disappeared.

Hink said she was walking near the construction area when she saw the men leaning against a maroon van. It caught her attention, she said, because it was 9 a.m. on a Sunday, and the van seemed out of place at the time.

She also said she saw two women jogging around 7:30 a.m. the day before, although she could not recall their specific physical descriptions.

No one ever followed up with her about what she saw, Hink said.

Dale Kuerbitz, who lived about a mile from the Coopers, said that around 12:30 a.m. on July 12, 2008, he was awakened by a noise outside his home and that he saw a flash of someone getting in a van and speeding down the street.

Cary police arrived at his home and investigated but didn't find anything, he said. They took his contact information and left.

When he heard that Nancy Cooper was missing, he became concerned.

"We had a van in our neighborhood, and now, there's a missing jogger," he said.

He approached police during a roadblock in the neighborhood on the morning of July 13 and told them about the van and offered his contact information.

"They did not take it and sent us on our way," he said.