Google Maps search helps convict husband

A key piece of evidence that helped convict a man of first-degree murder was uncovered by police within weeks of his wife’s disappearance, prosecutors said today.

North Carolina police investigators discovered a map on Bradley Cooper’s computer in August 2008 showing the site where Nancy Cooper’s body was found, Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said.

But the Google Map search bore the date stamp of July 11, 2008, one day before Nancy Cooper disappeared, Zellinger said.

The jury returned the verdict against Cooper, 37, today after deliberating over three days. Cooper showed little emotion as the judge read the verdict and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The prosecution had not sought the death penalty.

Cooper said his wife went out for a jog at 7am on July 12, 2008 and never returned.

His attorneys argued that police botched the case by zeroing in on their client from the start, failing to investigate leads to other potential suspects.

“We are disappointed at the jury’s verdict, and believed the case for Brad’s innocence was strong,” defence attorneys Howard Kurtz and Robert Trenkle said in a statement. “It is our belief that the appellate issues are strong and we hope to have another chance to exonerate our client in the future.”

Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner ruled immediately after the verdict that there would be no bond for Cooper during the appeals process.

The defence attorneys criticised Gessner’s decision to disqualify certain witnesses.

“We feel that, had the jury been permitted to hear the testimony of our computer experts, the verdict likely would have been different,” the attorneys said.

Cary Police Chief Pat Bazemore said Cooper’s conviction “brings a terrible chapter in our community to a close.”

In a news release, Bazemore thanked investigators who worked on the case, saying they were “accurate, thorough and complete” in their work.

Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings said he was somewhat disappointed that Bazemore did not appear in court at all during the trial.

Over the course of the eight-week trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Cooper strangled his wife sometime between late on July 11, 2008, after Nancy Cooper left a party at her neighbour’s home, and the following morning, when a friend reported her missing.

Witnesses testified the couple, whom they said appeared headed for divorce, argued at the party.

Nancy Cooper’s body, clad only in a jogging bra, was found at a construction site in a subdivision less than three miles from the couple’s home on July 14, 2008. Prosecutors called witnesses who said Cooper had shown a seemingly nonchalant attitude during the two-day search for his missing wife.

Cooper had been jailed since October 2008, when police arrested him in his wife’s death. Jurors also could have convicted him of second-degree murder.

“Our relief is pretty palpable,” said Garry Rentz, Nancy Cooper’s father. Both her parents and her twin sister, Krista Lister, and brother, Jeff Rentz, were in the courtroom when the verdict was read by Gessner, who cautioned the audience against expressing emotion.

The victim’s family and friends hugged and smiled through tears when the first-degree murder verdict was announced.

Several of them had completed sworn affidavits showing that Bradley Cooper was a control freak who had had an affair while married. He was frequently absent on business trips and would customarily leave his wife to take complete responsibility for care of the two children.

He would also became angry and abusive towards his wife for no apparent reason, the witnesses said.

Gessner polled the jurors individually and urged them not to second-guess their decision, even though the widely publicised case would be talked about, written about and become “the subject of a television documentary and possibly even books.”

The case has received media attention in the US and Canada, where both Nancy and Bradley Cooper were born and raised. The Coopers were newlyweds when they moved to Cary, North Carolina from Edmonton, Alberta, in 2001 for Brad’s job at a high-tech firm in Research Triangle Park.

They were both keen distance runners, and Nancy Cooper was training for a marathon when she went missing.

The couple had two daughters while living in the US. Seven-year-old Bella and 4-year-old Katie Cooper have been living in Canada with their mother’s family since shortly after Nancy Cooper’s body was found.

“We’re going to go home and get our lives back,” said Garry Rentz after the verdict, echoing a complaint the judge heard from jurors as the trial ran on.

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