What is circumstantial evidence?

Since following the Cooper trial and seeing so many factors that contributed to a very unfair trial, I’ve been trying to understand how the jury arrived at their verdict with so little concrete evidence.  I’ve taken a look at several other cases that also appear to be wrongful convictions and I’m noticing a pattern. In many instances I’m seeing nothing more than weak circumstantial evidence combined with character assassination.  And in many cases the purported circumstantial evidence holds no weight. It is merely a compilation of theories thrown out there by the prosecutors with nothing to back them up.  They often list several of these items and suggest that “there are too many coincidences.  The person must be guilty“, but one must look at each individual claim and determine if it has merit. That isn’t happening.

First, a definition of exactly what circumstantial evidence is supposed to be –

Circumstantial evidence is best explained by saying what it is not – it is not direct evidence from a witness who saw or heard something. Circumstantial evidence is a fact that can be used to infer another fact.

Indirect evidence that implies something occurred but doesn’t directly prove it; proof of one or more facts from which one can find another fact; proof of a chain of facts and circumstances indicating that the person is either guilty or not guilty.

The emphasis is the word “fact”.  A good example would be –

Someone hears a shot fired and runs to the location to see what happened.  A person is standing over a body holding a smoking gun.  No one else is in the area.  One may infer that the person holding the gun did the shooting.  It is a FACT that the person is holding the gun. This is circumstantial evidence because there isn’t proof that the person did the shooting, but there is strong circumstantial evidence that they did. This type of circumstantial evidence can rightfully be used to convict a person.

Now, an example of what is NOT circumstantial evidence –

From the Cooper case – Evidence exists that a phone call was placed from the Cooper residence to Brad’s cell phone the morning that Nancy disappeared.  Brad told police it was Nancy.  If this is true, she is alive at 6:40 AM and he did not commit the murder.  The prosecutors tried to make the case that Brad could have somehow spoofed the phone call.  They spent days of the court’s time demonstrating all the ways one could do this, but they didn’t prove that Brad did, and therefore it is not a fact. It is not a fact that one can use to infer something and therefore it should be dismissed.  It is NOT circumstantial evidence.

If they had proof that Brad spoofed a phone call such as a log file or a phone record, then it would be circumstantial evidence because one could infer that he did this to create an alibi.  It still doesn’t prove that he committed the murder, but it would fulfill the definition of circumstantial evidence.  As it stands, it does not and therefore the jury should have voted “not guilty” since this piece of evidence was Brad’s alibi and was corroborated by the 16 witnesses who believed they saw Nancy Cooper that morning.  Do you see how the prosecutors were able to manipulate the jurors?

Another example –

In the Jason Young case, prosecutors allege that a witness saw Jason at a gas station the morning that his wife was murdered.  There is no video recording of this.  There is no receipt of a purchase verifying this.  There is no corroboration that it was in fact Jason Young.  Therefore, it is NOT circumstantial evidence and should not be considered evidence when deciding the verdict.  It is not a FACT.  It is one person’s statement and it’s clear now that eyewitness testimony over the years has wrongly convicted many innocent people.

If, on the other hand, there was clear video footage of him walking into the store at that time or a gas receipt with the time and date stamped on it indicating he was there, THEN it may be considered circumstantial evidence.

Why are juries convicting people with so little evidence?  How are prosecutors convincing people that unproven pieces of evidence ARE circumstantial and should hold weight?  At the Cooper trial, prosecutors stated in closing that the alleged (but unproven) spoofed phone call is circumstantial evidence. They explained to jurors how circumstantial evidence holds the same weight as direct evidence.  This is true, but only if it meets the requirement of circumstantial evidence and that is a fact used to infer that the defendant committed the crime.  They clearly are not meeting that requirement. Jurors are being manipulated, likely because they believe the person MUST be guilty or the case wouldn’t have been brought to trial. The jurors want to do the right thing.  They sympathize with family members of the victim but they are failing to force the State to meet the burden of proof. They are determining guilt based on fake circumstantial evidence.

In many cases it is difficult to prove a person is responsible for murder and other crimes. Police feel pressured to solve the case. They want evidence to display at trial. They want it so badly that they have resorted to fabricating evidence and throwing theories out there to suggest that the defendant likely committed the crime. But one must be careful to remain objective when evaluating the evidence and if it’s not factual, it must be discarded. Bringing weak cases to trial and then cooking up a bunch of so called “circumstantial evidence” shouldn’t be tolerated.

40 thoughts on “What is circumstantial evidence?

  1. You are dead on with the FAKE circumstantial evidence that is going on in Wake Co Court. There also seems to be a trend with jurors that feel as if they’ve been hired by the prosecution somehow. The Jason Young trial is on the same page as the Cooper trial. It’s merely a drama theater with no substantial evidence. I agree that your post should be published!


  2. What is going on in the courts is incredible really. It comes from a “tough on crime” mindset where the public needs to feel safe in their communities and they elect people who satisfy this need. This creates a rush to judgement police state and folks mistakenly believe they are immune from it. It is shocking to read the comments surrounding the Young case. It seems as if about 90 % of folks have been taken in by the “too many coincidences” byline. You know things have gotten completely out of hand when the prosecution theory on this case which is very far fetched actually has captured a great deal of support in the community. Just like some of the theories in the Cooper case, the theory here sounds good. But what happens is that this theory ends up being supported with unreliable evidence. The end result, the “theory” thus becomes an end in itself and folks just want to believe all these “coincidences. When you can legitimately see that the trail of “circumstantial evidence” has a bunch events that are unproven, that is when you should question that theory. Instead, rather than follow the chain of actual proven facts, they end up working very hard to create more coincidence again based on unsubstantiated “facts”. Bottom line, people are being convicted on what amounts to a work of fiction. The public buys it. So do jurors


    • So true. Think about the string of fake evidence used by prosecutors in the Cooper trial aside from the “spoofed call” – the dress deception, bed didn’t look slept in, two right shoes found, All detergent, Nancy’s missing shoes that police never found, Brad’s missing shoes that police never looked for, the 32 digit passcode evidence was made up, the hearsay (Nancy slept with her keys), really it was everything they presented. So disgusted with them for doing this. Then the defense had to spend all that time explaining how all of the evidence was fabricated, which they did but by then the jury was lost.


  3. So just now, Howard Cummings and Colon Willoughby asked for the testimony of JY’s 2 year old daughter to be presented to the jury when they adamantly and vehemently would not allow the testimony of 4 yr old Bella Cooper months ago which might have vindicated Brad Cooper. AMAZING


    • Notice he’s only allowing part of the 2 yr old testimony. As the not-allowed part would benefit the defense. Pitiful. I wonder if there are any fair judges in Wake Co.


  4. Thanks for your explanations, I never knew that about circumstantial evidence: the FACT concept. I was wondering two things. Are there any FACTS about Brad’s knowledge and conversations about the router that could be considered circumstantial evidence (CE), which could then be used to INFER that he spoofed the call? Is that the proper use of CE? On another note, it’s my understanding that the Defense Team is always the last to speak, always gets the last word. If the prosecution was misleading the jury with statements about the truth of CE, where was the Defense? It is the job of the Defense Lawyer to either object, or during his chance at having the last word, to explain the true definition of CE to the jury, and how that vastly differs from what the Prosecution just explained. If the Defense did not that, we should be having a discussion about an appeal based on inadequate representation, not about a misleading Prosecutor just “doing their job”


  5. First, it’s clearly written in the charge instructions from the judge to the jurors that circumstantial evidence is a string of facts used to infer guilt. Those may not be the exact words, but it’s quite clear that CE must be fact based. Otherwise it’s just a made up string of “coincidences” that do nothing to prove guilt.

    Facts about Brad’s knowledge of routers? I’m not sure what you’re referring to. The State created quite a production trying to prove that Brad spoofed the call but none of that matters because they failed to do so. We can’t do this to people. Without proof, we must give people the benefit of the doubt and assume their innocence. That is how it is supposed to work and if you were on trial you would wish that you had someone like me looking out for you. But you probably wouldn’t because most people do not care. They don’t care unless they are in that situation. I care because I expect better. You can not receive a fair trial in Wake county and that should concern you, but it obviously doesn’t.


    • Additionally, the phone records showing that the call was from the Cooper’s landline to Brad’s cell phone take precedence over the state’s wild theories about a fabricated phone call. At least they would in a sane world. People don’t even understand that they are thinking so backward today. Think about it and think about how YOU would feel if someone accused you of making up a phone call with no proof and worse.


      • You make some good points. And clearly, i’ve heard of a few stories lately out of that jurisdiction that are looking like they form a pattern, so, I’d hate to get ‘caught’ there for something I didn’t do, and having you pull for my defense when I’m all alone in my cell railing against the system would be a godsend. I should have prefaced my comments with “I know very little about the case, have only read snippets, and did not sit and watch all the videos, let alone sit in court”. I thought I read somewhere that Brad’s job at Cisco provided him with a lot of knowledge about routers and how to ‘accomplish things’ that the average non-techy could not. But I failed, as you pointed out, to read or acknowledge the part where it was only theories and something that was never proven about the ability to manufacture a fake phone call. But obviously, the jury bought it, which is very unfortunate, and certainly is another straw ont he camels back of what you are appauled by with this case. I think I understand that the judge, as you say, stated very clearly to the jury, what CE was. Did you get the sense that the defense either objected or tried to undo the damage that the prosecution did with their theories … which it sounds like, should not have even been allowed. Do you know when the new trial from the appeal will start. Brad doesn’t seserve to sit around waiting for them to get their acts together.


        • Brad was a VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) engineer for Cisco so the prosecutors made the claim that since he *could have* manufactured/spoofed a call that he DID. Since jurors now convict on *could have* rather than demanding proof, prosecutors can cook up any wild unproven theory that they want and it’s effective, unfortunately.

          In reality, anyone can spoof a phone call. The FBI checked the Cooper computers for evidence of a spoofed call. There was none. There wasn’t a log record, nothing. Nancy called him that morning but the jurors chose to buy the theory instead of the fact (phone record).

          As far as the defense goes, listen to their closing arguments on WRAL. Just do a search for Cooper trial. The lawyers did the best that they could. They covered all bases and this was a complicated case. I can’t think of one thing that they could have done differently to change the outcome.

          The judge was very biased and that had a huge impact. It’s a horrible, awful case and this should never happen, but it did.


          • Thanks for your time and response. You certainly are a dedicated person. If Brad ever gets out, it will be in part to your efforts. Do the police have a time of death? And has it changed to fit the evidence. I could see where they would say she died at 6 AM, and then, wooops, he’s on video survellance buying milk, we’d better change time of death. It had to be between 2 AM and 9 AM, right?


            • The time of death based on blood alcohol level and stomach contents and caffeine should have been late morning. Her food was completely digested, her alcohol level (.06) was consistent with decomposition alone. That doesn’t account for the 4-6+ drinks that she consumed that night. That alone (if she was killed just after midnight) should have been at least .12. .12 + .06 = .18. But Nancy had time to metabolize all of the alcohol so it was low.

              Food takes 4-6 hours to digest and if she was killed near midnight there should have still been food in her stomach.

              She often drank coffee before running, thus the caffeine but they stretched it to “that may have been from the diet coke the day before”.

              Additionally, the Cary police sent a letter to the medical examiner stating that “Nancy was last seen alive shortly after midnight”, instead of “her husband last reported seeing her at around 7AM”.


            • Oh yeah, I watched the video about that lady saying all along she knew they were in the box but didn’t say anything. And then someone said, why didn’t you say something, now we all look like idiots. Was SHE the defense witness, and the IDIOTS guy was the prosecutor?


      • Sorry for the repeat of this question, I think it got burried: Do the police have a time of death? And has it changed to fit the evidence. I could see where they would say she died at 6 AM, and then, wooops, he’s on video survellance buying milk, we’d better change time of death. It had to be between 2 AM and 9 AM, right?


  6. midnight to noon … 12 hour window? sounds like we need a new medical examiner. I just saw a show on medical examiners, I think on Frontline, across the country, these guys are typically espousing theories that have no basis in fact. Hope that wasn’t the case hear. Oh yeah, I remember now reading about the digested food, no alcohol, and caffine consistent with her morning coffee.


  7. I’m now listening to closing arguments by prosecution on the WARL site. The guy doesn’t even know who he is representing/hired by, he has to be corrected. ONly then to move on to making this a First Ammendment case. Wow. Is there a date set yet for the appeals trial, or did he win an appeal?


    • Hopefully the appeal will be filed soon, maybe in the next few months? Once it’s filed, I’m not sure how long it will take. It’s so hard. It’s so obvious that he didn’t receive a fair trial.


      • I’m still confused about the direct/circumstancial evidence thing.

        Here’s an example of Direct evidence 1st, then Circumstantial (from http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Circumstantial+Evidence)

        If John testifies that he saw Tom raise a gun and fire it at Ann and that Ann then fell to the ground, John’s testimony is direct evidence (so to me this means that Eye Witness testimony is Direct evidence—I know that eyewitnesses are wrong about 80%+ of the time, but in terms of understanding Direct vs. CE, eye witness is defiend as Direct.

        If, however, John testifies that he saw Tom and Ann go into another room and that he heard Tom say to Ann that he was going to shoot her, heard a shot, and saw Tom leave the room with a smoking gun, then John’s testimony is circumstantial evidence from which it can be inferred that Tom shot Ann.

        On this site, https://justiceforbradcooper.wordpress.com/, (Jason Young case) it’s been stated that:

        In the Jason Young case, prosecutors allege that a witness saw Jason at a gas station the morning that his wife was murdered. There is no video recording of this. There is no receipt of a purchase verifying this. There is no corroboration that it was in fact Jason Young. Therefore, it is NOT circumstantial evidence and should not be considered evidence when deciding the verdict. It is not a FACT. It is one person’s statement and it’s clear now that eyewitness testimony over the years has wrongly convicted many innocent people

        I agree that there’s no Circumstantial Evidence here. And I agree there’s no video or receipt. But given teh definition above, isn’t the Eyewitness Direct Evidence? And then it’s up to the jury to decide if they believe her or not … which is totally separate from what type of evidence it is.

        Just trying to understand the terms and the thought process.


        • If Gracie saw Jason commit the murder, that would be direct evidence. The string of events that infer guilt must be factual (proven). Gracie’s word isn’t enough because we can’t know for certain it was him. She didn’t even describe him accurately. As well, the alleged camera tampering is not factual because there’s no proof that Jason did any of it.

          If however they had a video camera showing him walking down the hallway with a ladder and then another one showing his face up close to the camera just before unplugging it, then that would be CE that could infer that he committed the murder. As it stands, it’s useless.

          If you think about it, they had NO evidence against Jason, yet he was convicted anyhow because “who else could have done it?”. That is wrong.


  8. Do you know if the prosecutor’s closing argument statements about “the Parisian” were true?

    That Brad created a phone number ‘out of thin air’ (Cisco RTP had 14,097 numbers available, but he actually created the 14,098th) and used it to call a woman in Paris.

    Also, is it true that when officers called the Parisian phone number, it repeatedly rang in Brad’s pocket?

    [It’s around the 27:00:00 minute mark in the prosecutors closing argument Video 1]


    • Part of his job was to do test calls to areas throughout the world, but I don’t know that he made up numbers. I think they were just throwing everything out there, hoping someone would believe that he must have spoofed the call that morning. But again, we can’t convict him for being a VoIP engineer and having knowledge of phones. It is 100% baseless. Even IF there’s a “missing” router, that still proves nothing because again, this CE must be 100% proven. Show me a log proving that he automated a phone call, yet it still appears as a normal call on both his cell record and the land line phone records. He did not.


    • I suppose that makes sense. I spent a lot of time making condensed videos of key portions of the trial. In order to really understand it, you have to watch the whole thing and keep in mind I carefully selected only the relevant parts that were scattered throughout testimony from multiple witnesses in a 10 week trial. People typically stop watching after the first couple of minutes.

      Now I’m working on making even shorter videos so people can see what they need to see about this case. There were so many things seriously wrong with it but it’s very difficult to get the information out there, to hold their attention long enough.

      Maybe defense attorney need to start using very colorful powerpoint presentations for closing, maybe visual cues with the least amount of words possible would help. It’s clear they just don’t understand and it’s resulting in incorrect verdicts in too many cases.


  9. Christopher Coleman was also railroaded by prosecutors with “circumstantial evidence”. Jurors decided the verdict on EXTRA-JUDICIAL evidence!


    • Because of your comments, I now have ambivelance about the story, whereas without your comments, I could have easily just gone along with whatever THE 48 HOURS says.

      Without knowing the evidence, without knowing him, without being a behavior expert, etc (I could go on and on–in other words I’m just offering my opinion and stating that the way it strikes me is …the miniscule “evidence” that I’ve seen) my first thought is this: when a woman dies, I think statistically it’s like 75% (I’m making this up and guessing at a number to make my point) that the husband or boyfriend did it. Add to that, that it happened in the 1.5 hours that he was gone at the gym, that’s gotta boost it to 95% (I’m just making up that figure too to make my point).

      The fact that you say her fingernails had none of his dna on them makes me think well, he’s gotta be innocent, no matter how much other circumstantial stuff points his way.

      And lastly–once again, I’m not claiming to be an expert in human behavior, nor have I had any training, I’m just saying how it strikes me–during the police interview, I find it hard to believe that he could be as calm as he is talking about everything, especially the affair. I would be like “yes, I had an affair, I feel so awful now given that I just saw my dead wife 3 hours ago, and my murdered children”.

      I’m uncomfortable hearing “he’s in shock”, or “you don’t know him” or “everyone handles their grief differently”. I’m just saying this is how it struck me. And that he would in parts of the interview could be heard with a stressed voice and later talk calmly and matter of fact. And then also pull the Clintonian … “I didn’t think that the sexual relationship we were having was an ‘affair’, I always thought an affair was _______”. Wow.


        • I’m also compelled by what I hear on the video posted on this site: http://blog.eyesforlies.com/2012/05/chris-coleman-on-48-hours.html To me, it’s like the first 20 seconds that he’s talking his voice sounds one way, then for the remainder of the interview, as he ‘concentrates’ on traits of his sons that he is describing to the interviewer, it’s like he forgets that he’s supposed to sound sorrowful, and distraught, and he instead describes events like he’s reading a grocery list. I would think someone who is innocent and truly in pain would have just the opposite affect, they would start out the interview trying to hold it together and try and not let their emotions get the better of them in order to make it through the interview. And then as soon as they begin describing their loved ones, start feeling their loss and pain, and totally break down, cry, and say “I’m sorry”, while they try and regain their composure to make it through the interview.


  10. 48 Hours featured the Coleman case on 5/5/2012; the comments on the 48 Hours Mystery FB page show how duped and gullible the American public is; everyone but 3 posters were extremely *certain* Coleman was guilty based on a 1-hour show. Most troubling is that viewers new to the case bought the prosecution’s “theory” and the “circumstantial evidence” hook, line and sinker and declared in numerous posts that “he did it” and parroted the prosecution’s theory almost word-for-word! Coleman received threats – the prosecution spun a theory that Coleman sent the threats to himself and planned the murder of his wife and chlidren for six months. And the case was tried in the media daily for two years so, by that time, the prosecution’s outrageous theory was progra


    • Thanks for the post. I will definitely try to watch the 48 Hours segment on the Coleman case. These 1 hour programs don’t even come close to revealing the facts of these cases. It was the same thing with the Cooper case and Jason Young. There is much more to both of these local cases but the most important thing that wasn’t revealed in the Dateline shows is how unfair the trials were.


  11. Regarding “Eyes for Lies” and programs like it. These programs are extremely subjective. There is no such thing as a human”lie detector” and none of us should be taken in by such nonsense. To understand this, all of us must think about the hundreds of times someone has successfully lied to us, to our faces. A program like “Eyes for Lies” does point out many interesting approaches to searching for truth and in fact this program almost always agrees with the prosecution in criminal cases. Largely, this is a result of pre-conceived notions of the innocence or guilt of the accused. And the fact that most folks actually ARE guilty gives a verification of the accuracy of such analysis. The fact is, we are just as often wrong about our “gut feelings” as not.and so is the Eyes for Lies website.


    • I appreciate your level headed response. Stating your opinion without being critical and over the top. It’s rare on sites like these. I look forward to reading more of your comments.


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