Brad Cooper, an IT Engineer residing in Cary, North Carolina was framed for the murder of his wife, Nancy Cooper in 2008. The case has all the hallmark signs of a wrongful conviction – tunnel vision, confirmation bias, mishandled evidence, destroyed evidence, witness coercion, exclusion of exculpatory evidence and a failure to investigate alternate suspects. Further, the State abused their power in an unprecedented move by hiding behind national security to avoid proper Discovery rules. The judge went along with it.
The only evidence linking Brad Cooper to Nancy’s death was Google map files found on his computer. The files appeared to be a search of the area where Nancy’s body was found and it would have taken place the day before she disappeared. There were multiple irrefutable signs of tampering found on the computer by Brad’s defense experts. A careful analysis revealed that the map files were planted on the machine. The jury would never hear the evidence and Brad was convicted of first degree murder.
In September, 2013 Brad received relief when the North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial, but the justice system would continue to fail him. New counsel was appointed in January, 2014 when the NC Supreme Court denied the state’s PDR. Though this was a highly technical, complex case, Brad’s new attorney, James Freeman only visited him four times in nine months. A plea offer was presented to Brad in September, 2014. At that point in time, Freeman had not even finished reading the trial transcript, nor had he reviewed the discovery. He didn’t file a single motion on Brad’s behalf, not even for the computer discovery the Court of Appeals ruled he was entitled to. To top it off, Brad was going to have to face the same judge for the second trial. On September 22, 2014 a factually innocent man pleaded guilty to 2nd degree murder.
Accepting the offer meant that Brad would have to serve just over six more years. If he chose to take his chances at another trial, it likely would have been at least a year away . . . two if he requested a new attorney to take on his case. With the terms of the plea deal, at that point he would have been looking at four more years until guaranteed freedom. It seems that taking the deal was the only logical choice under the circumstances.
Why did they work so hard to ensure that Brad Cooper would take the fall for this? First, there was a lot of power and money in one corner. The Rentz family hired Tharrington-Smith to represent them. They worked fast to see to it that Brad would lose custody of his girls just two days after Nancy’s body was found. This law firm had their own investigators on the murder investigation. They gathered all of Nancy’s “friends” into their corner and a witch hunt ensued. Friends held affidavit preparation meetings and emailed each other examples of the types of things they should be writing to “assist” with the custody case.
Brad lost his girls in a secret emergency custody order by Judge Sasser on July 16th, 2008. There was nothing to warrant this. By all accounts he was a wonderful father to Katie and Bella. Certain things were set in motion and it snowballed. The police chief, Patricia Bazemore made a statement that this was not a random act before Nancy was even found and before any investigation had begun. This is probably the quickest rush to judgement ever witnessed in a case. They ensured that this would have a certain outcome – Brad Cooper had to be proven to be responsible for her death. The public saw what was happening – he lost the kids and the police chief all but said he was responsible just days after Nancy’s disappearance. Brad’s fate was sealed which would ensure that the Rentz family would keep the girls and the police chief would save face for making those early, irresponsible comments that we now know were 100% baseless.
When people inquired how they could assist with the investigation, Cary police asked them if they had spoken with Alice Stubbs of Tharrington Smith. State witnesses were told not to speak to defense investigators. Some slammed the door in the defense investigator’s face. When Tharrington – Smith deposed Brad Cooper in his fight to keep his girls, Cary police supplied them with questions. The firm worked hand in hand with law enforcement. At the custody proceeding in October, 2008, it was revealed that Cary police had shared certain discovery with the law firm that they had yet to share with the defense team. Police also supplied a witness with her phone records in preparation for her deposition with Brad’s attorneys.
A chain of events occurred that would guarantee Brad would be held responsible for this crime.
Cary Police had instant tunnel vision – ignored calls from 15 citizens who believed they had seen Nancy jogging that morning, did not speak to 4 year old Bella Cooper even though she had told Clea Morwick that she saw her mother that morning, did not even attempt to access Nancy’s cell phones to see who she may have communicated with in the days before her disappearance. Weeks later they would wipe all data from both of Nancy’s cell phones and state that it was an accident.
There was no evidence linking Brad to Nancy’s death. Footprints and tire tracks near the body did not match Brad’s. There was no witness, no sign of struggle, no physical evidence whatsoever to support the state’s theory. Nothing.
The state presented weeks of character assassination – “Brad was an absent husband” “Brad was an introvert.” “Brad had an affair” “Financial control” – None of it held any water. The public saw that.
How was he ever convicted? A Google map search of Fielding Drive was found on his computer. The alleged search would have occurred a day before Nancy disappeared.
Facts about the computer evidence:
- Computer was improperly collected – left on for 27 hours after police seized the Cooper’s house
- It was improperly stored – instead of the standard secure evidence locker it was placed in a lab with no sign out sheet even required
- Chain of custody was not maintained
- Computer was not hashed until the FBI took it into custody in August, 6 weeks after it was seized. It was useless at that time.
- Defense experts found multiple file changes, password changes, time change
- Prosecutors presented Gessner with an FBI affidavit blocking the defense from receiving discovery related to the computer evidence, he accepted it.
- Defense experts found several clear signs that the map files were planted on Cooper’s computer and a report was shared with the state.
- The prosecution argued that the defense experts should not be allowed to testify – one did not have a forensic “certificate” and the other was not on the original witness list. Gessner said “Okay then. No testifying about tampering.”
- State experts did little to investigate the allegations of tampering and their one anonymous report later determined to be Chris Chappell’s of Durham police was incorrect on many counts.
- The jury convicted Brad based on the state’s computer evidence alone as there was no other evidence
- NC Court of appeals overturned the conviction because Brad’s experts were qualified to testify and should have been permitted to testify.
I don’t believe those in power were ever going to allow this damning evidence to be revealed – evidence of tampering that would damage the reputation of police and the DA office. I believe that is why things happened the way they did with this “deal.”
This is not over. I recently published a book about the case – Framed. The book details all of the misconduct that occurred in the case. I had the opportunity to interview Brad Cooper and the book contains many facts that were never shared with the public.
There will continue to be efforts to clear Brad’s name. It is so important for people to know the truth about this case. A guilty plea does not bar him from an opportunity to be exonerated. It is just a different route because he simply could not trust the standard path.
Please contact me if you had any role in the railroading of Brad Cooper and wish to clear your conscience, or if you have any information that could potentially lead to the arrest of the real killer(s).
I am currently doing paralegal work researching cases for The Deskovic Foundation for Justice. I also spent a great deal of time working on the Jason Young case — another very questionable case in Wake County, North Carolina. Jason was wrongly convicted of murder in 2012 and his case is still in the appeal process. If you wish to learn more about the case, please read my book, Absence of Evidence, which includes a great deal of information that was not revealed at trial.