I previously covered the fact that Judge Gessner refused to allow any information about comments made by Bella Cooper that morning. I’ve now had a chance to review a few parts of the trial transcript that were blacked out and I want to highlight the magnitude of the exclusion of this information because it had the potential to significantly influence the path of the investigation had it been pursued.
Clea Morwick was watching the two Cooper children the afternoon of July 12th, the day that Nancy Cooper disappeared. At some point, Bella (age 4 1/2 at the time) told Clea that she saw her mother that morning and that she was wearing black shorts and a white T-shirt. This is very important because it conflicts with the State’s very early theory – that Brad murdered Nancy after she returned from the party shortly after midnight. The information actually supported the information that Brad provided to police – that Nancy went jogging at around 7 AM that morning. Please note how Detective Dismukes handled the information received from Clea. It can be found in this portion of the transcript.
The significance of this is twofold. First, because investigators dropped the ball after receiving this information and neglected to interview the child, it never became part of the investigation. Because they ignored this, it never led anywhere and it may have. Think about it. This information was known very early on, when Nancy was still missing. Shouldn’t they have had a sense of urgency to speak to the child in the hopes that it would give them details about things Nancy may have said to her before leaving, or details about what she was wearing, or something that potentially could have helped find her?! How is this good detective work? Their goal at that time was to find Nancy Cooper, NOT to build a case against Brad! But they chose the latter by ignoring this information.
This is where the investigation transgressed from shoddy to outright dishonest. Do you think the detective would have questioned the child about this if she had said she witnessed the murder? You can be certain that would have been the case. But since this information was counter to their theory, they simply dropped it and this was the first day and Nancy was missing! They never pursued it. End of story. Is this the type of investigation you want your police department to conduct? If you think about it, they were actually rewarded for doing a sloppy job. They never were held accountable for this and at the end of the trial were praised by all of the town officials.
Secondly, the significance of the jury not having an opportunity to hear this is that it would have clearly demonstrated how the investigators made a huge error in ignoring this critical information that could have helped find Nancy Cooper. This was a pretty big thing to ignore! The judge could have instructed the jury that the information is hearsay and can’t be offered as proof to the matter, etc., just like he did with all of the mounds of hearsay information that he allowed the State to present. Which is more important for the jury to hear – hearsay testimony from an exterminator that Brad had an affair, OR testimony that showed that Cary police made the decision not to interview a key witness in a murder investigation after learning that the information supported what Brad had told them? That’s an easy one, yet the exterminator’s testimony was allowed and the detective’s was not. And this is one of many, many examples. The State’s case was more about hearsay than anything else.
Remember that in the Jason Young case Judge Stephens permitted the daycare workers to testify about Cassidy’s actions soon after the murder. He handled it by giving the jury instructions. Judge Gessner could have handled the information from Bella in a similar fashion, but he chose not to, even though he allowed ALL of the State’s hearsay from multiple witnesses. Very unfair.
Really stop and consider how each person received this information. First, the so called friends of Nancy. They knew of this information from Clea and instead of considering this, they continued to build a case against Brad by lying about missing ducks, a necklace, green juice, type of detergent the Coopers used and more. They should be ashamed. Then police knew of this information and did absolutely nothing, when they should have immediately interviewed the child to hopefully help find Nancy. Then prosecutors barred the defense from receiving any additional details about whether or not Bella was interviewed. And finally, the judge made sure the information would never be heard at the trial. Is this the kind of justice we want? Is this how you would want an investigation handled if you were suspected of a crime?
Remember, Brad’s story was supported by more than just Bella’s statements. There were 16 witnesses who responded to the “missing” flyers and they believed they saw Nancy that morning. Did police visit them and try to receive additional details to try to help find Nancy? No. They were more concerned about building a case against Brad than finding Nancy. Police said this wasn’t significant because they didn’t personally know Nancy. Well, Bella did!
And finally, a third item that supported Brad’s story was the fact that Nancy told three people at the party that she planned to go jogging the following morning. How many people did she inform she was planning to paint at Jessica’s house? Zero. Who did investigators and prosecutors believe? Jessica. Who did investigators discount? All 16 witnesses, Bella Cooper, the three witnesses from the party AND Brad himself.
Hopefully the jury will hear this evidence in the new trial.