Witnesses suspected husband killed Nancy Cooper
Posted March 14, 2011 6:50 p.m. EDT
Updated March 15, 2011 12:10 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Witnesses testified Monday in the first-degree murder trial of Brad Cooper that they had suspicions that he killed his wife, Nancy Cooper, long before police ever arrested him for the crime.
"I didn't have a relationship with him, and I didn't think there was anybody else who could have possibly killed Nancy," Damia Tabachow said Monday of her contact with Brad Cooper in the days following her friend's disappearance on July 12, 2008.
Brad Cooper, 37, has said his wife went for a jog that morning and never returned. A man walking his dog two days later found her body in a drainage ditch in an undeveloped subdivision about 3 miles from the couple's home in Cary's Lochmere neighborhood.
Leading up to that discovery, on the afternoon of July 12, a crowd, including Craig Duncan, gathered outside Nancy Cooper's home as police interviewed neighbors and friends and searched the house.
Duncan, who lived across the street, told jurors that at one point that afternoon, he saw Brad Cooper sitting alone on the front porch and went to talk with him.
"He was sitting there, holding his hands, looking forward. The conversation was not one in which he looked me in the eyes, and he kept repeating the same thing," Duncan said. "My personal opinion was that it was not natural, and I got the feeling that it was almost like a rehearsed statement."
Duncan said Brad Cooper's demeanor later that day also seemed deliberate – he was crouched and seemed to be purposely dragging his feet when the two of them walked to the home of a neighbor, who was caring for the Coopers' two daughters.
"I knew Brad killed Nancy when I walked over and sat on the stoop with him. I knew it in my gut. I could tell he was not acting naturally," Duncan told Brad Cooper's attorney on cross-examination. "In my heart, I believe he had killed Nancy and he was trying to put on a show."
Prosecutors have said that the couple was having marital problems that summer and were in the process of separating after Brad Cooper admitted to having an affair with one of Nancy Cooper's best friends.
The couple had planned for Nancy Cooper, a Canadian citizen, to return to Canada with her children, the state has said, but that Brad Cooper changed his mind in April after seeing a draft of a separation agreement outlining his financial obligations.
That's when, prosecutors say, he also cut her off financially and started giving her a weekly allowance.
Friend Ross Tabachow testified that Nancy Cooper had complained at a neighborhood barbecue on the night of July 11, 2008, that Brad Cooper withheld her weekly allowance because he found out she had been paid for painting at a friend's house earlier in the week.
"Their relationship was like a pendulum," Tabachow said. "Sometimes, it was tolerable, and sometimes it swung to hate mode. On the night of the party it was in hate mode."
Defense attorneys have said the Coopers were having financial problems, which prompted Brad Cooper to set up a budget and put his wife on a weekly allowance of $300 to help protect them from financial ruin.
Her spending, including more than $24,000 on her American Express card in 2007, had outpaced their client's salary, and the couple had maxed out their home equity line of credit and borrowed against Brad Cooper's 401K.
Neither Ross Tabachow nor his wife, knew much about the couple's finances, they said, but they had no reason to doubt Nancy Cooper.
They also said that although they knew the couple was having marital problems, they never heard them argue and never heard Nancy Cooper express any fear of her husband.
But Donna Lopez, who met Nancy Cooper for the first time at the neighborhood barbecue, testified that she left the party that night worried.
The two had talked for more than an hour about the Cooper's troubled marriage, his affair and how Brad Cooper put Nancy Cooper on an allowance.
"She said that she didn't have much money, that he had taken away all her credit cards and would dole out small amounts of money as he felt was needed and would follow her to the gas station to put gas in the car," Lopez recalled Nancy Cooper telling her.
As they parted that night, "I told her good luck with everything she was going through," Lopez continued. "I was worried for someone I didn't know well. I thought I had met someone really nice, and I was just really worried."
As she and her husband left the party, she showed him where Nancy Cooper lived and said "Something really bad is going to happen over there."
It wasn't until Sunday, July 13, 2008, Lopez said, that she learned Nancy Cooper was missing.