On September 22, 2014 a factually innocent man pled guilty to 2nd degree murder. Why would a person ever plead guilty to something he didn’t do? In this case, the system failed Brad Cooper. They failed to perform a fair investigation and then they put him through a seemingly rigged trial that had to have a certain outcome. Judge Gessner violated Brad’s rights and completely blocked his defense case and as a result Brad was convicted in May, 2011. Brad went on to win his appeal in a unanimous decision by the NC Court of Appeals in September, 2013. The conviction was overturned, a new trial was ordered. The judges agreed that the verdict could not be trusted based on the defense’s inability to present their case to the jury. Gessner was wrong to bar the defense witnesses.
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. At the time the “deal” was presented to Brad, Freeman had not even finished reading the trial transcript. Most attorneys in this situation certainly would file motions to have the computer evidence thrown out and others but that did not happen. Brad had no reason to have any confidence in his ability to win his case under those circumstances. As well, it appeared that he would be facing Judge Gessner again in a new trial, so it was destined to be another unfair trial.
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 no matter what? 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 appeared to have worked hand in hand with law enforcement. At the custody trial 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.
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 will be publishing a book with all the details about what happened in this case. There will continue to be efforts to clear Brad’s name. 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. The writing was on the wall.
Please contact me if you had any role in the railroading of Brad Cooper and wish to clear your conscience; if you were a juror and wish to share your experience; or if you have any information that could potentially lead to the arrest of the real killer(s). firstname.lastname@example.org