Woman pleads guilty to elderly man's murder

Crystal Worley being led into Johnston County Courthouse (Mickey Lamm/WTSB Radio)

July 5, 2012 9:43:16 AM PDT
A woman who was originally charged with the murder of an 80-year-old retired truck driver and broker in Johnston County, pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter Thursday.

Crystal Worley, 37, or 336 Napoleon Road in Selma, was originally charged with first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the death of James "Tom" Cooper.

Assistant District Attorney Paul Jackson told ABC11 that the prosecutor's office allowed Worley to plead guilty to lesser charges.

"The plea in this case was based upon the quantity and quality of the admissible evidence evaluated in light of the state's burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt. The plea took into consideration the circumstantial nature of the evidence and the lack of cooperation of key witnesses, two of whom are known drug dealers," he explained. "Our system of justice places an extremely high burden on the state and the victims of crime. I hope this disposition will at least bring some closure to the family of the victim."

Cooper was found dead in his home on Crumpler Road in Kenly on June 8, 2010. Arrest warrants stated he was killed on June 5.

The warrants also revealed Worley allegedly stole a black onyx ring and a wallet with $526 in cash. According to the warrant, a hatchet was used in the murder. A previously released autopsy said Cooper had died from blunt force trauma to the head.

Authorities said in a search warrant released shortly after his death that Cooper was found lying in a pool of blood, with one shoe off and half his dentures on the floor.

Following Worley's arrest, Sheriff Steve Bizzell said that Worley had befriended Cooper and had been doing house and yard work for him.

Worley has been sentenced to a minimum of 73 months and maximum of 97 months in prison.

(With information from Mickey Lamm, WTSB Radio)

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