Defense challenges phone, computer evidence in Cooper case

Brad Cooper listens to evidence with his attorney Howard Kurtz

March 24, 2011 4:30:19 PM PDT
A Cary detective who examined Nancy Cooper's cell phone faced a grilling cross-examination by her husband's attorney Thursday.

Brad Cooper is charged with first-degree murder in his wife's death. Her 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.

Cooper's defense has maintained from its opening statement that Cary detective Todd Thomas somehow mishandled Nancy's cell phone during his attempt to examine it because all data it contained was erased.

"You might have been able to find information in Mrs. Cooper's cell phone that you might not have found in the cell phone records," defense attorney Howard Kurz asked Thomas.

Kurtz has claimed Thomas kept attempting to get around the Blackberry phone's password until it erased its memory, instead of handing the phone off to a more qualified expert.

Under cross-examination, Thomas admitted that there could have been text messages, contacts, pictures, and video on the phone, but he had no way of knowing.

Sources have told ABC11 that information recovered from computers in the Cooper home may be incriminating, and the defense seems to be working to build doubt about how the computers were handled.

There were three computers in the Cooper home - two laptops and a desktop tower. Thomas and another investigator seized the computers. They testified Thursday that they are trained to immediately kill power to computers they want to search to preserve the data they contain.

But when one of the detectives was cross-examined by Brad Cooper's attorney, he suggested that during the process of seizing and storing the computers before giving them to the FBI, some data might have been changed, lost, or corrupted.

Prosecutors asked both detectives questions to try to undo the perception left by the defense. Both men said the computers were not plugged in or tampered with.

Testimony continued Thursday afternoon when detective Jim Young took the stand. Young described the search for a dress that Nancy was wearing at a party the night before she disappeared. He said Brad Cooper had not been able to produce the dress the day Nancy was reported missing, but said Cooper found it the next day. Cooper told detectives Nancy had washed the dress because she had spilled something on it. The dress was green, but Young said Cooper had told them the day before that it was black or blue.

Young also said during questioning before his wife's body was found that Cooper told police he'd cleaned out his garage and vacuumed the trunk of his car because he'd spilled gasoline in it.

Cooper also talked with detectives about troubles with his marriage. He admitted he'd had an affair, and said Nancy had told a marriage counselor she'd spent $40,000 "to get even." The amount included $10,000 spent on a painting of a black bear. Cooper told detectives Nancy did not have any credit cards in her name and she was not an authorized user on any of his cards. He said he gave Nancy $300 a week in cash for household expenses.

Young described Cooper as having a "sarcastic tone" in his descriptions of Nancy's spending habits and their marriage problems.

Cooper told detectives his wife went out to go running the day she was reported missing and never returned. But in his testimony Thursday, Detective Young said it did not appear that Nancy's running shoes were missing. Her keys and cell phone were also left at the home.

The defense has maintained that detectives focused on Cooper from the beginning and ignored other suspects. On direct examination Thursday, Young said detectives began their investigation as a missing person case and no possibilities about Nancy's whereabouts were ruled out.

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