Judge scolds lawyer in Cooper trial

Brad Cooper appears in a Wake County courtroom

March 18, 2011 10:07:54 AM PDT
The judge overseeing the Brad Cooper murder trial scolded a defense lawyer Friday.

It happened as an undercover Cary Police Department detective testified for the third straight day. Courtroom cameras have been turned off during the testimony of Detective Adam Dismukes to protect his identity.

Cooper is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife Nancy, whose partially clothed body was found by a man walking his dog in an undeveloped subdivision not far from her home on July 14, 2008 - two days after she was reported missing. She had been strangled. Prosecutors say Cooper killed her because he was angry she intended to leave him, take their children, and move to be with her family in Canada.

The prosecution alleges that Nancy was strangled sometime after she returned with Brad from a party in their neighborhood the night of July 11, and much of the testimony in the trial so far has centered around witnesses who were at the party, and the state of the Cooper home the next afternoon when Nancy was reported missing by a friend who said she had expected her to come over to continue work on a painting project.

Brad told detectives his wife went out for a run the morning of July 12 and never returned.

In court Friday, Dismukes testified about Brad's movements the morning of July 12. He Brad is known to have left a Harris Teeter grocery store around 6:30 a.m. He said phone records show Brad received a call on his cell phone from the Cooper home's landline at 6:40 a.m. Less than a minute later, Dismukes said Cooper's car can be seen on a security camera pulling back into the Harris Teeter.

Under cross-examination, the detective conceded Cooper could not have driven to the Harris Teeter in that time from his home. The testimony backs up Cooper's story that Nancy sent him back to the store to get laundry detergent, and then called him to tell him to also get juice. The video shows Cooper go back into the store and purchase Tide and juice.

The defense also asked Dismukes whether they identified any other suspects. Cooper's defense attorneys have said that Nancy's friends convinced police that Brad was guilty and investigators ignored any evidence that didn't fit that scenario.

Dismukes testified Friday that no other suspects were identified. Defense lawyer Howard Kurtz then mentioned that the detective had done two audio interviews with John Pearson - the man who, according to testimony, had an affair with Nancy.

Kurtz went on to say, "From the first interview to the second interview his stories changed substantially... "

The prosecution immediately objected and the jury was sent out of the room.

Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner chastised Kurtz saying, "You have left the perception with the jury that someone has lied to this witness."

The judge has repeatedly warned the defense about phrasing questions so that hearsay evidence is heard by the jury. The judge added, "We have wasted a phenomenal amount of time every day chasing these rabbits..." He then called jurors back into the courtroom and told them to disregard the “stories changed” statement.

Testimony continued Friday with the testimony of Dr. John D. Butts Jr., who was the chief medical examiner in North Carolina at the time of Nancy Cooper's death. Butt's said his autopsy shows Nancy Cooper died "on or about the 12th." He said the time of death could be 12 hours in either direction because of the advanced state of decomposition.

Butts said Nancy was naked except for a jogging bra. She had an earring in one ear. As Butts showed pictures of Nancy's body to the jury, Brad Cooper looked down and appeared to be writing on paper in front of him.

Butts pointed out marks on Nancy's neck that he said were consistent with strangulation and a bone in her neck was fractured. He said there was no indication any type of rope or wire was used - only saying it appeared her neck was compressed until she died. Butts said she would have lost consciousness in a matter of seconds and then died in 3-4 minutes.

Under cross-examination, Butts said he could not rule out that Nancy died sometime the morning of July 12 - which is when the defense maintains she died. Butts testified that because of the decomposition, he might not have seen bruising, or injuries consistent with a struggle if she was grabbed by someone while running.

He said there was no evidence of sexual assault.

The prosecution has yet to present any physical evidence linking Cooper to the crime. Several former friends and neighbors have testified that he had affairs and that the marriage was deeply troubled. They also said Cooper was acting strangely the day Nancy was reported missing.

The Coopers relocated to Cary from Canada in 2001 when Brad Cooper took a job at Cisco Systems in Morrisville. He studied computer science at the University of Calgary and took graduate business courses at North Carolina State University.

Nancy Cooper's parents now have custody of the couple's two children in Canada.

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