Ex-Cisco engineer Brad Cooper, whose first-degree murder conviction for the 2008 strangulation slaying of his wife Nancy was overturned last year based on disputed Google Maps-related evidence, today pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
According to North Carolina media reports, Cooper will be sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison and has agreed to allow the adoption of his two young daughters by Nancy Cooper's sister. Whether the sentence includes time served was not clear.
The original trial was built on circumstantial evidence and a Google Maps search result police say was found on Cooper's laptop. From the appeals court ruling:
(FBI) Special Agent (Greg) Johnson and Detective (Chris) Chappell testified that the temporary internet files recovered from the laptop indicated someone conducted a Google Map search on the laptop at approximately 1:15 p.m. on 11 July, (2008) the day before Ms. Cooper was murdered. They concluded that this search was done by someone using the laptop while it was at the Cisco office where Defendant worked. The State's experts testified that the Google Map search was initiated by someone who entered the zip code associated with Defendant's house, and then moved the map and zoomed in on the exact spot on Fielding Drive where Ms. Cooper's body was found.
Cooper's defense lawyer alleged that the laptop had been tampered with and the Google Maps search result planted. Two defense experts were prepared to testify in support of that contention but were prevented from doing so by the trial judge, a decision the appeals court ruled was wrong and grounds for a new trial.
Instead of pursuing that trial, Cooper chose a plea bargain.
From today's story in The Cary (N.C.) News:
The former Cisco employee hesitated before answering a direct question from Judge Paul Gessner.
"Did you, in fact, kill Nancy Cooper and dump her body on Fielding Drive," Gessner asked as part of a series of questions in accepting a second-degree murder plea.
Cooper, 40, looked at his lawyer Jim Freeman. He did not respond for several more minutes.
Freeman and the prosecutors asked to approach Gessner at the bench. They had a private conversation then returned to their tables.
Cooper then responded: "Yes."
In addition to the disputed Google Maps evidence, prosecutors in the initial trial had alleged that Cooper, a VoIP expert, may have borrowed a Cisco 3825S router from his employer in order to fake a phone call from his wife to him after she was already dead. The router was never found.
Several commenters on Twitter have criticized the plea deal as letting Cooper off too lightly.
"It was quite painful to hear Brad Cooper plead guilty to second degree murder, knowing that all the evidence points to his innocence. It was disgusting to hear the state argue the same evidence over again from the trial that had been clearly refuted. I truly have no words to describe my feelings about that."