'It was him,' suspect's father says

The father of Samuel James Cooper Jr. says his son, charged this week with killing five men, all but confessed to him last month that he had killed one of them across the street from the father's restaurant.

Authorities have accused Cooper of being involved in a string of robberies, attacks and killings dating to spring 2006. Samuel James Cooper Sr. said that when he asked his son why he killed the man near the restaurant, he indicated that it was to keep from getting caught. He said the man might have been able to identify him.

The elder Cooper said that he didn't go to police because he wasn't sure.

"I didn't know what to do," Cooper said in an interview this week. "That's my son, and there's a man dead. I wasn't absolutely sure he done it. But as far as I was concerned, it was him."

Samuel Cooper Jr., 30, was released last year after 12 years in prison for robbery and an escape attempt. He was arrested Nov. 21 and charged with robbing a Bank of America in Garner, and then charged Tuesday with murder in connection with the five deaths.

Rockingham County authorities have also charged him with two counts of attempted first-degree murder in connection with a home robbery in Reidsville.

Reached late Thursday, Samuel Cooper Jr.'s attorney, Stephen Freedman, declined to comment on the father's story.

"I don't think me making a comment to the media is appropriate, especially at this early stage," Freedman said.

Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue also wouldn't comment.

The elder Cooper, 52, spoke about his son's arrest during an interview Wednesday. He said Thursday he has been advised by his son's attorney not to speak about the case.

Cooper said he paid little attention to news accounts of the first three killings.

But on Oct. 12 Ricky High, a 48-year-old homeless man, was shot to death across from his restaurant, Papa Pizza & Subs, in the 300 block of North Tarboro Road. High had been shot shortly after 1 a.m. Moments later, the elder Cooper arrived and found that police had cordoned the area.

A witness told Cooper that someone dressed in black had come through a path near Lane Street with a gun, shooting High and Tyree Truesdale of Raleigh. Emergency workers took Truesdale, 18, to WakeMed Raleigh Campus. High was left in the street, already dead.

Soon after, Cooper's sons, Samuel Jr. and Michael, pulled up in a silver Ford Fusion.

"What's up?" Cooper says Michael asked after hopping out of the rented car. Samuel Cooper Jr. never got out.

Cooper says he grew anxious. He says he felt that his eldest son had something to do with the shooting.

Couldn't leave evidence

Later that morning, the elder Cooper said he asked Samuel Jr., "Why did you have to kill Rick?"

Cooper said his son looked at him hard and then answered: "I couldn't leave any evidence. I might have said something and he heard my voice."

Efforts to reach Michael Cooper on Thursday were unsuccessful.

Samuel Cooper Jr. is charged with killing Osama "Samuel" Haj-Hussein on May 12, 2006, in a convenience store; LeRoy Jernigan on June 3, 2006, at the Circus Restaurant on Wake Forest Road; Timothy Barnwell on April 27 at his apartment; High on Oct. 12; and Tariq Hussain at a convenience store on Oct. 14. Police have not disclosed motives in the killings.

The elder Cooper faces no charges in connection with the cases against his son. On Sunday, police charged him with possession of a weapon by a felon, but the charge was dismissed by Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby the next day.

Cooper said the gun charge was dropped after he persuaded his son to cooperate with the investigation.

Willoughby would not elaborate on what type of deal, if any, he made with the senior Cooper. "Some of it is facts of the case; some had to do with other considerations," Willoughby said.

Cooper had owned the little pizza place with the red, black and white checkerboard counter for a little over a year. He closed it about three weeks after the shooting.

"Business went down tremendously after Rick got killed," Cooper said.

Mostly, Cooper said he shuttered the eatery because he was haunted by the shooting across the street.

"I'm there every day and people talking about Rick," Cooper said. "I couldn't handle that."

Two days after High was killed, Tariq Hussain was found shot to death inside Bobby's Grocery on Garner Road on the south side of town. That shooting caught the eye of Cooper's daughter.

"She told me, 'Daddy, that's close to home,' " Cooper said this week. "She said, 'Something just don't feel right about this.' "

(Staff writer Sarah Ovaska contributed to this report.)