Comparison of Wake County prosecutors handling of evidence – Cooper vs Young trial

Having watched both the Cooper and Young trials, I couldn’t help noticing the conflicting ways in which the Wake county prosecutors addressed certain things.  It seems there is a double standard when it comes to the importance of statements made by young children, the importance of eyewitnesses and the importance of evidence found at the scene, depending on which side they support.

At the Cooper trial, prosecutors fought hard and were successful at keeping out any mention of the fact that Bella Cooper (age 4 1/2 at the time) told a neighbor that she saw her mother the morning she disappeared.  This was exculpatory and they are required to share all details of this with the defense, but because it went against their theory (that Brad murdered Nancy shortly after midnight) they never followed up with it by interviewing the child and they did everything possible to bar the information from the trial.  They simply couldn’t let the jurors hear this.  It’s clearly written in the detective’s notes that Bella told Clea Morwick she saw her mother that morning, that much is certain.  I am confident that if Bella had said something that supported the State’s theory, they would have presented it.  There is no doubt.

Now consider how they handled information from a child in the Young case.  The same prosecutor, ADA Howard Cummings was quite comfortable with calling a daycare worker to testify that she saw Cassidy Young playing with dolls days after the murder, and Cassidy was only 2 years old.  The implication was that the little girl was reenacting the murder with the dolls. However, there was no mention at all that the doll was supposed to be her father so the whole thing was ridiculous.

Daycare worker demonstrating doll play that she alleges Cassidy engaged in.

If Cassidy had told family members who then told investigators that she saw a stranger attacking her mother, they would have excluded that from the trial, or said she was too young for it to be meaningful.  But since the doll play (in their opinion) supported the theory that Jason was responsible for the murder, it was perfectly fine to introduce it.

Next, consider the significance of the State’s star witness at the Young trial, Gracie Calhoun.  She was the gas station clerk who was shown one photo of Jason and claimed she remembered him coming in to buy gas at 5:30AM the morning of Michelle’s murder.  She said she remembered him because he cussed at her because she didn’t turn on the pump for him and that he went in and threw a $20 at her.  It doesn’t matter that she described him as short and with thinning hair at the trial.  They really needed her testimony because without it, they have nothing at all indicating that he ever left the Hampton Inn that night.  Because they really needed this witness, her testimony carried a lot of weight when presented to the jury.  Most people watching the trial readily believed her, despite the fact that she was shown just one photo and that she inaccurately described him.  It didn’t matter because the State seems to be able to get away with that. Jurors believe just about anything they throw their way and it’s quite puzzling but it makes it easy to win convictions in Wake county.

It’s important to note that 75% of wrongful conviction cases are a result of inaccurate identification of the suspect and many times it’s because investigators didn’t take any steps to verify the certainty of the identification, such as line-ups or corroboration of the identification from another source.  No action was taken in this case to verify this witness identification, but everyone is fine with that, so why bother?  Take the easy road and do the minimum since that gives them the best chance to win.

Now consider the Cooper case where sixteen witnesses contacted police after seeing the “missing” flyers with Nancy Cooper’s photo.  The State downplayed this throughout the trial by attempting to discredit the witnesses, attempting to trip them up and stating repeatedly that “these people didn’t personally know Nancy Cooper!”

The defense attorneys went one step further in affirming the identification was accurate by actually showing at least one of the witnesses a group of photos. The witness was able to identify Nancy Cooper in the photo line-up.  She felt very certain that she saw her that morning.  Other witnesses testified that they felt very certain it was Nancy they saw that morning as well.  One man even reportedly saw a van following her. This confirmed Brad’s story, that Nancy left to jog at 7AM the morning of July 12th.  Since it didn’t fit the State’s theory, they had to convince the jury that 16 people were mistaken or lying.  They somehow managed to do just that!

So in the Young case, Gracie’s testimony was presented as solid and completely credible, whereas in the Cooper case, the witnesses had to be mistaken.  Do you see the unethical tactics here?

Footprint near Nancy Cooper's body

Finally, I noticed one more notable contrast in how they handled some of the physical evidence in the two cases.  In the Cooper trial, they ignored tire tracks and footprints at the crime scene.  We know that the tire tracks did not match either of the Cooper vehicles (the State’s theory is that Brad transported Nancy’s body in his car to the Fielding Drive drainage ditch). We also know that the footprints did not match Brad’s shoe size.  That’s as far as the investigation went regarding this evidence.  Nobody even bothered to take castings, even though the most prominent tire tracks led directly to the body and the footprints were right next to Nancy Cooper’s head. Once they determined that it couldn’t have been Brad’s car or shoes, nothing more was done.

Compare that to the Young case, where many experts were hired to analyze shoe prints found at the crime scene and tire tracks found outside the home.  This evidence implicated Young because he was known to have at one time purchased a pair of shoes that could have been a match to one of the prints. Had they been unable to connect Young to the shoe print (not that they were able to conclusively prove it was from HIS shoe), they likely would have treated the evidence the same way that they did in the Cooper case.

Tire tracks leading right up to where body was found (Cooper case)

Instead of thoroughly investigating all leads, we’re clearly seeing tunnel vision in both of these cases.
In both cases, the husband became the immediate suspect and other items that should have been important to the investigation were ignored if they didn’t go along with their theory that the husband did it.

If the evidence supports the State’s theory it is presented in the most convincing way possible.  If the evidence does not support the State’s case and even points to the defendant’s innocence, it is completely downplayed.  That is pretty sloppy investigative work, in my opinion and it’s very obvious that’s what occurred in these cases. The prosecutors are supposed to seek the truth, not twist evidence to make their case appear to be stronger so they can secure another “win” at all cost. I’m very disappointed that the jurors seem more like State employees than unbiased, objective peers.  If they were objective, they would not so easily be convinced to vote guilty when the State’s evidence of guilt is incredibly weaker than the defense’s evidence of innocence.

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4 thoughts on “Comparison of Wake County prosecutors handling of evidence – Cooper vs Young trial

  1. Wow! This is an incredible way to look at these cases. It is astounding when you actually line these facts up beside each other and one can easily see that prosecutions in Wake County (and in fact all over the country) are NOT a search for the truth or justice, but in fact are merely an exercise in confirming the prosecution’s theories. It is important to note that it is extremely difficult for a defendant to protect themselves from prosecutorial misconduct because well after the fact, things like evidence of tire tracks are long gone, things like “missing clothing” are also long gone. In the Cooper case, there was a deliberate effort to hamper the recovery of digital evidence despite strong warnings by defence lawyers to preserve it and to top it all off, prosecutors waited until the expiry of digital preservation by internet companies to inform the defence that evidence “had been lost”. It is an absolute disgrace and an affront to justice. It is also commonplace in Wake County.

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    • It is indeed very common place in Wake County and in counties Nationwide. I am so glad to see all the stories being shared on our social media platforms, spreading the word of wrongful convictions, prosecutorial misconduct and judicial errors that lead to innocent people’s lives being ruined by our INjustice system.

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  2. I was thinking the same things while listening to the Young trial – why wasn’t Bella’s statement allowed like the behavior of Cassidy by her teacher; how can 16+ people see the same thing and all be wrong; etc. I also question why the CCBI was not called in to do what they were supposed to do – process the crime scene for the Young case, but not the Cooper case? It seems the CCBI would have been VERY helpful in the Cooper case – i.e., they would have taken plaster castings of the footprints and tire tracks. I’m not convinced that Jason is not guilty (and not looking to push anyone’s buttons for a discussion about it since everyone does have the right to their opinions), but I have a “gut feeling” (pun intended) that Brad didn’t do it. In fact, it seems the circumstantial evidence points to his innocence. Personally, I don’t know that he cared enough about the relationship to have committed this murder which would appear to be a crime of passion. Seems like the passion was long gone on both sides. Like Kurtz pointed out, there is an extensive list of other people that should have been looked at much closer – especially all of Nancy’s “friends”.

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