Cary News

Brad Cooper pleads guilty to second-degree murder; sentenced to at least 12 years in prison

Brad Cooper enters the courtroom as he pleads guilty to second-degree murder for killing his wife.
Brad Cooper enters the courtroom as he pleads guilty to second-degree murder for killing his wife.

Brad Cooper, the father of two accused of killing his wife and dumping her body near their Cary home in 2008, acknowledged the crime under oath in court on Monday.

The former Cisco employee hesitated before answering a direct question from Judge Paul Gessner.

“Did you, in fact, kill Nancy Cooper and dump her body on Fielding Drive,” Gessner asked as part of a series of questions in accepting a second-degree murder plea.

Cooper, 40, looked at his lawyer Jim Freeman. He did not respond for several more minutes.

Freeman and the prosecutors asked to approach Gessner at the bench. They had a private conversation then returned to their tables.

Cooper then responded: “Yes.”

As part of the plea deal, Cooper had to consent to the adoption of his daughters, now 8 and 10. They are now living Nancy Cooper’s sister, Krista Lister.

Though plea offers have been talked about since 2008, when Brad Cooper was arrested and charged with killing his wife, he has maintained that he was not guilty of first-degree murder.

But Cooper returned to Wake County Superior Court on Monday morning. His former in-laws came to Raleigh from Canada with hopes of closure in a case that has kept the two Cooper girls in a state of limbo.

Cooper, who is also from Canada, was convicted of first-degree murder in spring 2011.

The verdict came after nearly 36 days of testimony with almost 100 witnesses.

The trial exposed a social scene among the big houses of Cary, where neighbors fell into duplicitous relationships or extramarital trysts after getting together for board-game nights, backyard barbecues or Halloween parties.

The N.C. Court of Appeals Court overturned the verdict in April 2013 and the N.C. Supreme Court refused to review the case despite a request from the state attorney general.

The evidence in the Cooper case was largely circumstantial. Jurors said afterward that prosecutors won with computer evidence that defense lawyers tried to quash.

The defense argued that the police investigation of Nancy Cooper’s 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, who also presided over the trial in 2011, allowed prosecutors to introduce evidence of a Google Maps search of the site where Nancy Cooper’s 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 wife’s body.

The defense team at trial, however, raised questions about the validity of the time stamps on the laptop files.

Gessner ruled against the defense’s attempt to classify two witnesses as forensics experts to raise questions about the computer evidence.

The appeals court judges noted that the “sole physical evidence linking” Brad Cooper to the homicide was the Google Maps search. “Absent this evidence, the evidence connecting Defendant to this crime was primarily potential motive, opportunity, and testimony of suspicious behavior,” the ruling states.

Further, the appeals court panel added that “whether the error was constitutional or not,” failure to let Brad Cooper use his experts was a key error that warranted a new trial.

Though Cooper did not testify at his trial, he told Cary investigators that his wife went jogging and never returned home.

At the trial, prosecutors called numerous friends and family members of Nancy Cooper to testify to the couple’s crumbling relationship.

Nancy Cooper, the more outspoken of the two, had told many people that she wanted out of her marriage and planned to return to her native Canada with their 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.