Barry Saunders

Saunders: Brad Cooper plea may have been expedient, but it also was troubling

Brad Cooper enters the courtroom as he pleads guilty to second-degree murder for killing his wife Nancy Cooper several years ago in a Wake County courtroom in Raleigh on Sept. 22, 2014.  It was a plea bargain after a retrial was ordered recently.  He is slated to serve at least 12 years in prison.
Brad Cooper enters the courtroom as he pleads guilty to second-degree murder for killing his wife Nancy Cooper several years ago in a Wake County courtroom in Raleigh on Sept. 22, 2014. It was a plea bargain after a retrial was ordered recently. He is slated to serve at least 12 years in prison. cseward@newsobserver.com

What? You mean I have to admit that I did it? In front of all these people?

Convicted murderer Brad Cooper acted as though the last question in the world he expected to be asked Monday in court was "Did you, in fact, kill Nancy Cooper and dump her body on Fielding Drive?"

You'd have thought that someone convicted of uxoricide would've expected that fundamental query, yet Cooper appeared flummoxed, staring at his attorney for a long, awkward minute. He eventually said, "Yes." All he had to do was give up rights to his daughters.

With that, you could almost hear the key turning to unlock his cell door. Cooper, who had been sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife in 2008, could now be out in about seven years.

Wow.

Making a deal

Anyone with an intimate or even passing knowledge of how court operates knows that prosecutors can at times seem more like Monty Hall - "Let's Make a Deal" - than high-minded justice-seekers representing society. When that happens, defendants can be arm-twisted into accepting a deal and admitting guilt in exchange for a lighter sentence. I frequently hear from inmates who said they copped a plea to avoid facing an even longer incarceration.

Believers in Cooper's innocence assert that that's precisely what happened this time - that he took a deal to admit guilt and skate rather than face another trial and possibly get life. Again. Judging by the scores of Cooper supporters from whom I've heard since the first trial, nothing will convince them that Nancy Cooper's killer is not still out there while good ole Brad who - one writer actually said "wouldn't hurt a fly" - languishes in prison for a few more years.

Many pro-Brads contend that Cary police planted incriminating evidence on his computer, although no one has offered a reason why they would have done that.

Others believe the dude got a sweet deal he didn't deserve.

Regardless of which side you take, the fact is that no deal would have been necessary had the prosecutors allowed defense witnesses to address the so-called planted computer evidence.

Violence stereotypes

Kit Gruelle, an advocate for domestic violence survivors and coordinator for the Private Violence Film Project, said Cooper's 12-year sentence is troubling to her because "of that hidden population of battered women who live in expensive homes and gated communities who will see this and understand that there may be a different set of standards applied to their case. ... We have stereotypes about who we think victims of domestic violence are."

There are also stereotypes of who we think perpetrators are, Gruelle said, and they're not presumed to be people making $17,000 a month, as Brad Cooper reportedly was.

Gruelle, who is featured in the feature-length documentary "Private Violence" that airs next month on HBO, said, "I had a sociology professor, when I was in school at Appalachian State, write across the bottom of my paper on domestic violence, 'I'm no expert, but it is my belief that domestic violence only affects poor, uneducated people. Doctors, lawyers and professors don't beat their wives and children.'

"If a sociology professor believes that," she said, "then we've got a major problem, because that stereotype continues to get perpetuated, and that makes it really hard for women of means who are being abused to come forward."

So sure, his 12-year sentence for the murder of a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend may provide "closure" to Nancy's family, but I think it may lead to open season on other mothers, daughters, sisters, friends.

To paraphrase Gruelle's clueless prof, I'm no expert, but it is my belief that a 12-year sentence for murdering one's wife is not much of a deterrent to others. Hmm, some guy predisposed to violence might ask, if he only got 12 years for killing his, how little could I get for just knocking mine around a little bit?

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