Witness: Coopers disagreed about custody

Hannah Pritchard testifies

March 31, 2011 4:46:54 PM PDT
Nancy Cooper's friend Hannah Pritchard testified Thursday that Nancy and her husband Brad disagreed strongly about the custody of their children.

Brad Cooper is charged with first-degree murder in Nancy's death. Her body was found in an unfinished subdivision near her Cary home on July 14, 2008. She was first reported missing July 12. According to an autopsy report, she was strangled.

Cooper's trial is nearing the end of its third week of opening statements and testimony. The prosecution has yet to present any physical evidence linking Brad to the crime. Instead, much of the trial has centered on circumstantial evidence and testimony about the couple's turbulent relationship.

The prosecution maintains Brad killed Nancy because he was angry she planned to divorce him and move with their two daughters back to their native Canada.

On the witness stand Thursday, Hannah Pritchard testified that Nancy told her about the couple's arguments over custody.

"He said they should just [each] take a girl and be done," she said.

"How did she feel about that?" asked prosecutor Amy Fitzhugh.

"Obviously, that was unacceptable," said Pritchard.

Pritchard told jurors that she and Nancy were very good friends who saw each other almost every day and that they shared activities with their children. She said Nancy owned a diamond necklace that she never took off even when exercising.

Brad Cooper told police that Nancy went out for a run between 6:30 and 7 a.m. July 12 and never returned. Her keys, cell phone, and car were found at the Cooper home along with the necklace.

Other friends have testified that Nancy never went running from her home and never ran alone.

Pritchard said she called the Cooper home July 12 and Brad told her Nancy had gone running.

"I made a comment that she wasn't back yet which went unanswered," she testified.

She said Brad called her later in the day to report Nancy had still not returned and wanted the phone number of the friend he said she told him she was leaving to run with.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Howard Kurtz challenged some of Pritchard's memories and assertions. She was asked about the earrings Nancy was wearing when her body was found. Pritchard testified they were screw back, but Kurtz pointed out they were not.

Kurtz also talked about photos that showed Nancy didn't always wear her diamond necklace, despite witness testimony to the contrary.

Later Thursday, Cooper neighbor Sharon Baughman was called to the witness stand. She was asked about a party organized by Nancy's friends in preparation for her moving back to Canada.

"Gifts cards were suggested to grocery stores and Target because Nancy needed money," said Baughman.

Other witnesses have testified that Brad tried to control Nancy by taking away her credit cards and putting her on a strict weekly cash budget of $300 a week.

Baughman said Nancy told her the party was later cancelled because Brad had taken her and her daughter's passports away from them. Baughman also said Brad had backed away from divorce plans because of disagreements over money and child support.

The defense has charged from its opening statement that Cary police were convinced by Nancy's friends from the beginning that he hurt her and never looked at other possible suspects - calling the investigation inept.

Cross-examining one of the lead detectives earlier this week, the defense zeroed in on the fact that he managed to erase all data from Nancy's cell phone while examining it, and other detectives did not wear protective booties while searching the Cooper home.

Cooper's lawyers have also picked apart testimony about a phone call Brad told detectives Nancy made to him the morning she was reported missing. Prosecutors are expected to argue that Brad - a phone expert who worked for Cisco Systems - had the knowledge to fake the call, but the defense says the necessary equipment was not in the Cooper home.

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