Judge denies request to unseal Cooper warrants

July 31, 2008 7:24:08 PM PDT
A Raleigh judge denied a motion to unseal search warrants in the Nancy Cooper case.

The rule allowing search warrants in Wake County to be sealed was written by Judge Don Stephens. He's the same judge who ordered the Cooper warrants sealed.

Judge Stephens also listened to arguments Thursday requesting the documents be unsealed.

The searches in question are of Nancy and Brad Cooper's house, cars and the submission of DNA by brad Cooper.

The second warrant involved the search of Brad's office in Research Triangle Park and the seal order on the third warrant doesn't designate what was searched.

"Clearly these are public records that have been temporarily sealed," Judge Stephens said.

He spent an hour of give and take with attorneys for local media and Wake County's district attorney. During that time, Brad's attorneys listened intently from the back of the courtroom.

Media representative Hugh Stevens told the judge he's concerned about the proliferation of search warrant seals being issued across the state.

"We're here in hopes of not only speaking to these specific search warrants but to the process by which the court carries out this very important responsibility," Stephens said.

Less than two days after Nancy's body was found at a construction site, Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby was in the kitchen of Judge Stephen's house at 2 a.m.

That's when the judge signed and sealed the first warrant to search the Cooper's home. Willoughby says there are many reasons he asked to seal the warrants.

Willoughby said one of those reasons is, "That would alert someone who is an offender as to what evidence law enforcement has. It may alert an offender of what information law enforcement is seeking. It may put public attention on a potential suspect who ultimately may not be charged."

After the hearing, Brad's attorneys said they just want a ruling that will best benefit the investigation.

The judge asked the media attorney if the issue begins and ends with him or if he is "just a weigh station along the way."

It was a clear implication the case could end up in a higher court.


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