Brad Cooper defense cost $340,000

The state's Indigent Defense Services paid the fees in the case 'Dateline NBC' will feature tonight.

staff writerAugust 19, 2011 

— Brad Cooper has been in Central Prison since early May, when a jury found him guilty of killing his wife, Nancy, in their Cary neighborhood.

His murder trial, one of Wake County's most protracted, exposed simmering domestic violence and social circles among the big houses of Cary, where neighbors would fall into duplicitous relationships or extramarital trysts after getting together for board-game nights, backyard barbecues or Halloween parties.

"Dateline NBC," a TV newsmagazine, is scheduled to air an hourlong segment tonight on the case. The show begins at 9 p.m. locally on NBC17; the Cooper portion is scheduled to start shortly before 10 p.m.

"The story appealed to 'Dateline' on many levels" said Esther Zucker, a producer for the show. "It was a tragic human interest story of Nancy and Brad Cooper; what began as a seemingly ideal marriage, their promising future and how it all sadly fell apart. The story also shined a light on domestic violence and in this case, we see that the symptoms aren't always physical abuse - emotional abuse is equally destructive."

The conviction of Cooper on May 5 marked the end of the longest murder trial that District Attorney Colon Willoughby could recall that did not carry the possibility of the death penalty. It also was one of the most costly cases for several parts of the justice system.

Indigent Defense Services, formed by the state to oversee and ensure legal representation for those who cannot otherwise afford it, paid $340,507 in expenses and fees to Howard Kurtz and Robert Trenkle, the two lawyers appointed to the case. Of that total, $233,116 went to Kurtz, who was paid for 2,429 of the 2,921 hours he billed for during his three years on the case.

Why so expensive?

Thomas Maher, head of Indigent Defense Services, said the money spent on the Cooper defense was among the most he remembered, particularly for a case where prosecutors were not pursuing the death penalty. A recent study of capital cases showed that only 1 percent of the cases cost more than $200,000 for Indigent Defense.

Maher also said the Cooper case was a complex one that included many witnesses and called for expertise on computer technology and entomology used to determine when Nancy Cooper died.

Kurtz said he spent more hours on the case than he was paid for, trying to figure out the many different angles that prosecutors might use against their client. He also filed numerous pretrial motions, arguing that evidence had been collected improperly by investigators and seeking help from the state Court of Appeals on information he thought Cooper was entitled to and not getting.

Maher said it can be difficult to calculate the true cost of a case because prosecutors and police, who draw state salaries, rarely keep track of the hours they spend on a specific case.

Lorrin Freeman, the Wake County clerk of courts, said the cost for the Cooper jury was $25,940, the highest she could recall in recent history. Toward the end of the trial, jurors sent the judge a note expressing their frustration with how protracted it had been. In the note, jurors asked the judge to urge lawyers to make better use of their time.

By comparison, the jury for the trial of Jason Young, another Wake County man accused of killing his wife, cost the courts $8,530.

How case was won

The Cooper case - which jurors said prosecutors won with computer evidence that defense lawyers tried to quash, in part because they argued that it was gathered illegally - was largely circumstantial.

For weeks, prosecutors called numerous friends and family of the victim to the stand to describe the crumbling relationship between Brad and Nancy Cooper. Nancy Cooper, the more outspoken of the couple, had told many people that she wanted out of her marriage and planned to return to her native Canada with her two children.

Friends described Nancy Cooper as an emotionally battered wife, a former career woman in Canada, who had to rely on her husband for her financial well-being because she did not have the necessary documents to work in this country.

Friends testified that her husband gave her an allowance but cut off her access to the couple's bank accounts. Defense attorneys contended that Nancy Cooper spent beyond the family's means and that her husband instituted financial controls to protect their assets.

"Dateline" producers said they had not been able to talk with Brad Cooper after his conviction but they did speak with his defense team.

"As far as the criminal case, the circumstantial nature of the evidence and how technology played a role in the testimony was of interest and may shock some viewers," Zucker said.

anne.blythe@newsobserver.com or 919 836-4948

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