RALEIGH — State prosecutors challenging the N.C. Court of Appeals decision that would grant Brad Cooper a new murder trial disagree with characterizations of a Google map search as the sole direct evidence linking the defendant to the crime.
In a petition filed Friday seeking an N.C. Supreme Court review of the case, state prosecutors contend that the three-judge appeals court panel overlooked other crucial evidence that led to the May 2011 murder conviction.
Cooper, 39, a father of two and former Cisco employee, was tried in Wake County Superior Court in the spring of 2011 on accusations that he murdered his wife, Nancy, and dumped her body less than three miles from their Cary home.
In a case that was largely circumstantial, jurors said after their verdict that prosecutors won a conviction with the computer evidence.
Defense attorneys challenged the conviction, arguing that several rulings by the trial judge, Paul Gessner, prevented Cooper from putting on his best defense.
The defense argued that the police investigation of Nancy Coopers death in July 2008 was inept. They had hoped to argue before the jury that the crucial computer evidence could have been tampered with and perhaps planted by investigators arguments that they planned to introduce through their own expert witnesses.
Gessner allowed prosecutors to introduce evidence of a Google Maps search of the site where Nancy Coopers body had been found. Prosecutors argued that the map search and time stamps associated with it showed that Brad Cooper had searched for a site to dump his wifes body.
The defense team, however, raised questions about the validity of the time stamps on the laptop files.
Gessner ruled against the defenses attempt to classify two witnesses as forensics experts to raise questions about the computer evidence.
The three-judge appeals court panel ruled earlier this month that absent the computer evidence, much of what prosecutors presented was primarily potential motive, opportunity, and testimony of suspicious behavior.
The appellate judges ruled that had the defense been allowed to challenge the computer evidence with their witnesses a different result would have been reached at the trial.
In the petition seeking Supreme Court review, prosecutors contend that the defense challenged the computer evidence and argued at the close of the trial that someone had tampered with the files. Prosecutors further contend that the defense had other computer experts on their potential witness list whose expertise would not have been challenged, but the defense chose not to call them as part of a tactical move.
Prosecutors also argued that the Google Map search was not direct evidence, as defined by previous court decisions, but should have been considered circumstantial.
It is strong circumstantial evidence in this case, to be sure, Daniel P. OBrien, an assistant NC attorney general, stated in the petition for discretionary review. But it is only one piece of strong circumstantial evidence amidst a sea of strong pieces of circumstantial evidence, chief among them being the evidence that came from the defendant himself, the plethora of his demonstrable and highly inculpatory lies.
Cooper has maintained his innocence since police accused him of strangling his wife and dumping her partially clad body in an unfinished neighborhood.
The defense argued that Cary police focused on Cooper as their prime suspect early in the investigation and failed to pursue leads that might have led investigators to a different conclusion.
They argued the that investigators intentionally destroyed evidence on a confiscated mobile phone, contrary to prosecutors assertions that losing information from the phone was unintentional.
In asking the states highest court for a discretionary review, state prosecutors argue that the appeals court ruling raises constitutional questions that would be within the Supreme Courts purview.
Discretionary review may also be granted where the subject matter of appeal has significant public interest, the petition states.
This is a high-profile, much-publicized case which, in addition, has international implications, according to the petition.
Brad and Nancy Cooper were from Canada, and the case has been widely publicized there,.
It was one of the longest non-capital murder trials in the history of Wake County; it was longer and involved more resources than most capital cases. It is a defense in which the defense alleged that the Cary Police Department was inept in its investigation and intentionally destroyed evidence. For these reasons, the subject matter of appeal has significant public interest, the petition concludes.