Case was Lifestyles of the 'Popular' and 'Affluent'

Staff WriterMay 6, 2011 

  • 2008

    July 12: Nancy Cooper is reported missing by a friend, Jessica Adam, who contacted police in the afternoon after learning from Brad Cooper that Nancy had not returned home from a 7 a.m. jog.

    July 14: Nancy Cooper's partially clothed body is found in an undeveloped area by a man walking his dog.

    July 19: One hundred seventy of Nancy Cooper's friends and family members gather in Cary for a remembrance ceremony. Nancy's parents, twin sister, and two daughters attend the ceremony, but her husband does not.

    July 25: Nancy Cooper's parents and sister are awarded temporary custody of her two daughters by a Wake County judge, an arrangement to which Brad Cooper consents.

    Oct. 27: Brad Cooper is arrested and charged in the killing of Nancy Cooper, and held without bail.

    Sept. 10: A judge grants Cooper's lawyers a delay in the trial, which pushes the court date into 2011.

    2010

    Sept. 14: Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner pushes the trial into 2011 rather than start it in October 2010 as previously scheduled. He wants to give lawyers more time to prepare.

    2011

    Feb. 4: Brad Cooper appears before a Wake County Superior Court judge and pleads not guilty to murdering his wife.

    Feb. 28: Jury selection begins.

    March 10: Opening statements begin.

    May 3: Final arguments, jury begins deliberations.

    May 5: Jury of 10 women and two men finds Brad Cooper guilty of first-degree murder.

    Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner sentences him to life in prison.

    News researcher Brooke Cain

— It might be the pair of BMWs the Coopers owned, the six-figure salary Brad Cooper earned, or the secret trysts both he and Nancy conducted - at least one of them in a closet.

It could be testimony that explained how to put on a sports bra, the tip from a psychic or the missing collection of decorative ducks.

But whatever the reason, one of the longest, tawdriest and most bizarre murder cases in Wake County memory drew a man-on-the-street following that is rare in the Raleigh courthouse.

Wake County saw five domestic violence homicides in 2009, six in 2008 - none of which drew the same casual spectators or gavel-to-gavel coverage.

With no physical evidence - no blood, no hair, no fingerprints - Brad Cooper's murder trial didn't delve into complex forensics. It rarely even took jurors to the spot where Nancy Cooper's body was discovered.

The intrigue

So what kept people tuned in?

It was juicy. The trial showcased Cary's neighborhood secrets: back-biting, affairs, public squabbles, informal marriage counseling over bottles of wine. Part of Cooper's defense hinged on the Peyton Place quality of his Lochmere neighborhood: furtive glances and in-crowds.

"You will hear from a clique in and around Cary," warned defense attorney Howard Kurtz. "They are pretty. They are popular. They are affluent. They are highly successful."

Money, too, played a role - the number of digits higher than the typical homicide.

Whether it was Cooper's $135,000 salary at Cisco Systems, his wife's $24,000 in American Express card debt or the $2,100 in child support he was asked to pay, the trial offered salacious bank account details.

There was plenty of sex, guaranteed to draw a crowd.

At one point, jurors heard Brad Cooper explain that he'd had sex with Heather MeTour in a master bedroom closet while both of their children were in the house.

At another, they heard of Nancy Cooper's rendezvous with a man she brought home from a Halloween party, who washed off the makeup from his costume before they ended up naked on a couch.

The paramour, John Pearson, told the jury he was too inebriated to remember the extent of their involvement.

Add technology to the trial's appeal. For many of the weeks stretching from February to May, jurors were treated to details about the inner workings of cellphones, laptop computers and routers. A key piece of evidence from the prosecution, Google satellite images found on Brad Cooper's laptop, wouldn't have existed 15 years ago.

Moments in the trial were often grim, from descriptions of Nancy Cooper's nearly naked corpse to Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings' dramatic depiction of how long it takes to strangle a person - his fingers at his throat.

But just as often, they were strange. In a single day, testimony in a Cary homicide touched on Anna Nicole Smith, national security issues and secret missile codes.

Nobody but 10 women and two men know, however, what held weight behind the closed doors of the jury room.

And in the end, it is safe to guess that the sex, the money and the missing ducks got swept aside by the thought of a murdered mom.

josh.shaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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