The police investigation almost immediately centered on Nancy's husband, Brad. In their investigation, police found that the couple, which had moved to Cary from Canada, was on the verge of divorcing. This was not going to be an amicable divorce, from what people who knew the couple were saying, and in these kinds of cases, the estranged spouse almost always is going to be the prime suspect.
Almost immediately, police locked in on Brad Cooper, and at that point, to be honest, they decided that he would be the one they would investigate. Pat Bazemore, Cary's chief of police, declared that it was "not a random crime," which meant that whoever killed Nancy Cooper meant to kill her. What is important to remember is that from that point on, the police would interpret ALL information as pointing to Brad's guilt, rather than trying to use the information they found as a roadmap to finding a suspect. (He was arrested in October of that year and charged with Nancy's murder.)
This hardly is unusual with police these days, and this is one of the biggest criticisms that defense attorneys and people like Radley Balko (one of the most accurate and important journalistic commentators on the law today) have of police investigations. All too often, police decide beforehand who is guilty and then tailor their investigation toward proving what they already believe to be true.
To put it mildly, this is a recipe for disaster, and it is the single worst cause of innocent people being framed. What starts out as a flawed investigation ultimately turns into police putting together a house of dishonest cards, and that is what happened in the Brad Cooper case.
Police and prosecutors claimed that Bradley strangled his wife to death the night of July 11, put her body into the trunk of the car, drove her to the place where he had found in a Google search, and dumped her there. Brad, on the other hand, claimed that she had gone out jogging that morning and had called him on her cellphone at about 6:40 a.m.
Obviously, if she was out jogging and calling her husband instead of lying dead in a drainage ditch, the police/prosecution narrative made no sense and there was a killer on the loose. Making matters worse for the law enforcement narrative, a number of people told police that they had seen her jogging that morning. Obviously, there would be a huge collision course between competing streams of "evidence."
As readers know, houses of cards fall apart, and this one did, too. However, when prosecutors AND judges decide that they are going to do their best to prop up a bad case, then it really does not matter whether or not the charges have a foundation. If a jury goes along with what the judge and prosecutors want, then the defendant is doomed, and innocence means nothing.
There are a number of things that did not make sense in this prosecution, led by Assistant District Attorney Howard J. Cummings and ADAs Boz Zellinger and Amy Fitzhugh, and as I will point out in future posts, it is clear that the police, prosecutors, and the judge decided to find a way to deal with the red flags of the investigation. They include:
- Police destruction of the cell-phone data in Nancy Cooper's cellphone. Police claim it was accidental, but the defense was able to raise some important questions about it. By destroying the material and not notifying the defense for nine months about it, one gets the sense that something more than just carelessness is at work.
- The Google search of the area where Nancy Cooper's body was discovered was found on Brad Cooper's computer, and jurors said afterward that this was the key piece of evidence that led them to convict Cooper. The defense had an expert who was going to testify that this particular bit of "evidence" had been planted, but Judge Paul Gessner, an ex-cop and prosecutor whose rulings and demeanor clearly favored the prosecution (a reminder of "judge" brian out-house in the Tonya Craft trial), declared that the expert could not testify because, in Gessner's words, he was "not qualified." Thus, the jurors were not permitted to hear contrary evidence, and future posts not only will go into the expert's findings, but also will take a hard look to see whether he was unqualified or not;
- The witnesses who claimed to have seen Nancy Cooper that morning jogging. Since more than a dozen people made that claim, one would think that the police and prosecution would have been interested in their story. Think again. Police and prosecutors clearly did not want to have their narrative distracted and ignored these witnesses.
• On Friday evening, July 11th, 2008, Brad, Nancy and their two daughters attended a neighborhood barbecue. Brad took the children home at approximately 8PM while Nancy stayed at the party until approximately midnight.
• At approximately 4AM, Brad woke up to his younger daughter (just under age 2) crying for a bottle of milk. He was trying to calm her down and shortly after, Nancy woke up too. They were trying to wean her off the bottles of milk so they were trying to find other ways to calm her down, plus they were out of milk.
• The two of them started some laundry and it was typical for this family to be awake early in the morning since Nancy often went running early in the morning. Finally, shortly after 6AM, Brad decided to go to the Harris Teeter to buy some milk.
• He returned home with the milk and Nancy gave their daughter the bottle and they realized they were out of laundry detergent so Brad went back to the store to buy some. The store was approximately 2 miles from the home. While en route to the store, Nancy called Brad and asked him to also pick up some green juice for their older daughter. This phone call was received at 6:40 AM, just before Brad is seen entering the Harris Teeter Supermarket.
• Brad returned home and took his daughter upstairs to the home office so she could finish her bottle while he got some work done. He heard Nancy leave to go jogging at approximately 7AM.
• Brad received phone calls from two of Nancy’s friends that morning and he told them that he thought she may have gone jogging with a friend, Carey Clarke but that she hadn’t returned yet.
• Brad had made plans to play tennis the prior evening with a friend for 9:30AM. When Nancy hadn’t returned home by then he called his friend, Mike Hiller to cancel.
• As it got later, Brad became worried and called Nancy’s friend, Jessica Adam to see if she had Carey Clarke’s phone number. She didn’t. Brad told Jessica he was going to put the girls in the car and drive around to look for Nancy.
• At 2:15PM, Jessica Adam called police. Attached is the audio of the phone call: http://www.wral.com/news/local/audio/3250012/
• In the phone call, Jessica implicated that Brad may have had something to do with Nancy’s disappearance.
• Over the next 2 days, police questioned Brad repeatedly and he fully cooperated with them. They also had police follow him and claimed it was to protect him, yet they didn’t put a police trail on the children.
• Nancy’s body was found in the evening of July 14th in a drainage pond in a new construction area 3 miles from the Cooper home. The autopsy report would later indicate that she was strangled.
• Police took possession of the Cooper home on July 15th as part of the investigation.
• On July 16th, Nancy’s parents filed for temporary custody of the children and the judge granted them custody.
• In early October, Brad agreed to undergo a custody deposition in order to regain custody of his children. It was 7 hours long and was more of an interrogation than a deposition. Very specific questions about the events leading up to and following Nancy’s disappearance were asked. It was evident the police supplied questions to the custody attorney.