On July 14th, 2008, Nancy Cooper was tragically found dead in a drainage pond of a construction area in Raleigh, NC. Brad Cooper was charged with her murder in October, 2008 and was convicted of 1st degree murder in May, 2011.
Brad appealed the verdict and, by unanimous decision, the court of appeals agreed that Brad should be awarded a new trial. Unfortunately, the same judge and prosecutors who railroaded Brad the first time by denying him a fair trial were assigned to prosecute him once again.
On September 22, 2014, Brad Cooper accepted a plea deal that required him to plead guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 12 to 16 years. With time served, it is expected that he will be released in approximately six years. Brad felt this was his only option, likely feeling that he would never receive a fair trial. There is hope that he will one day be fully exonerated.
What follows is a little more background on the murder and events that followed.
From the moment Jessica Adam called the police, telling them that Nancy Cooper was missing and that she was afraid her husband Brad might have been involved, events were set into motion that would prove unstoppable. As a result, an innocent man's life would be ruined, a murderer (or murderers) would go free and justice would be sacrificed on the altar of passion.
Police conducted an inept and dishonest investigation from the start. Rather than a missing persons investigation, it immediately became a prosecution. In the hours and days following Nancy's disappearance, sixteen people contacted police in response to flyers posted throughout the area. They called police because they believed they saw a woman matching Nancy's description. Instead of investigating these sightings, police chose to ignore them. Police never followed up with a single eyewitness until about three months later.
Evidence was ignored at the location where Nancy's body was found. Tire tracks were discovered leading up to her body. They did not match the Cooper's vehicles but police never took castings of them to determine the make and model of the unknown vehicle. Footprints were found that didn't match Brad's shoes but police never photographed them in detail or took castings. A cigarette butt and wiring large enough to bind a person's wrists were found but they were not tested for DNA until weeks before the trial began.
Forensic evidence was poorly handled. Bug larvae were left in an unrefrigerated locker for two weeks, and by that time only a small percentage had survived. At the time of the analysis, only four insects were available for testing, so the time of death window could have been much narrower (and possibly could have cleared Brad of the murder accusation). Blood tracings were found under Nancy's nails but they were unable to identify DNA. In fact, they couldn't even pick up Nancy's own DNA. Caffeine was found in her system but, had a more accurate test been ordered, more information could have revealed a more precise time when she consumed it.
Digital evidence was mishandled. Days after receiving a preservation letter from the defense attorneys requesting the careful handling of all digital evidence, police claim to have accidentally wiped Nancy's Blackberry cell phone and destroyed the SIM card.
No forensic protocols were followed when police seized the Cooper's computers. Brad's laptop was left on for 27 hours while in police custody. Within that time, multiple files were altered and passwords were changed. The defense team had a network security expert witness and a digital forensic examiner ready to testify that spoliation and evidence of tampering were found on the machine. The judge never allowed the testimony into court, so the jury didn't see this crucial testimony.
According to the jury, Brad's conviction was based on a Google Maps search of the location where Nancy's body was found the day before she disappeared. But defense witnesses found several indications that search files had been planted on the computer. They all had invalid timestamps. Invalid timestamps can be an indication that the files were planted, because the computer didn't recognize the files and therefore assigned them an invalid timestamp.
The cursor file times for the open and closed hand were identical, which is impossible if it was a dynamic search (with clicking and zooming in on the map).
The search itself wasn't even logical since the cursor panned directly and immediately to the Fielding Drive location. From there it zoomed in several times before the browser closed. The entire search lasted a mere 42 seconds, with the final screen lasting two seconds. Clearly, the files were planted. The evidence was tainted and should never have been allowed in court.