Tuesday, January 23, 2018
News Roundup

Cooper jury hears from siblings about childhood filled with abuse, beatings

CLEARWATER — During the worst years of a miserable life, Richard Cooper shared a single-wide trailer in Arizona with at least five older half-siblings, a violent, alcoholic father and a mother who enabled beatings almost every day by snitching on the kids when he came home.

Those were just a few of the horrors that, years later, according to Cooper's lawyers, led him to commit a grisly triple murder in Largo. Jurors who heard the stories Friday at a resentencing hearing for Cooper will determine whether he still should face the death penalty for those crimes.

Cooper, who has been on Florida's death row for 30 years, has acknowledged firing the shotgun blasts that killed Steven Fridella, Bobby Martindale and Gary Petersen. The June 18, 1982, "High Point murders" also sent three of his accomplices to death row or life in prison. At issue is whether his gruesome upbringing should be a mitigating factor.

Three siblings and a former neighbor told jurors that Phillip Cooper beat his children with closed fists, straps and whips, and that he cracked their heads together, shoved them into plates of food they didn't eat, forbade friends or extracurricular activities, and poked them in the face with his partially amputated index finger.

The siblings also testified about the father beating a daughter with a strap until she vomited, flogging young Richard Cooper with a horse whip because he couldn't find something in the tack shed and shattering the cheekbone of his mother, Juanita Kokx.

An older brother, Donald Cooper, admitted Friday to pummeling Richard frequently and burning him with a magnifying glass despite also suffering beatings.

The children lived on pinto beans one week and popcorn the next. They bathed in irrigation ditches and went to school with bruises and strap marks, said Peggy Jo Kirby, Cooper's sister.

After a while, Richard Cooper started complying with whatever his father and brother told him to do.

"You can only take beatings like that for so long, and then you just want to get out of it," said Kirby, 52.

Prosecutor Jim Hellickson asked her to confirm that she and Richard Cooper and the other siblings loved their father and grieved when he died in 1980 of lung cancer.

Kirby agreed, but added: "He was our father. You could have a dog and beat it to death — it's still going to love you."

How Cooper coped with the abuse factors prominently into the defense shaped by a pro bono team of out-of-state lawyers. Forensic consultant David Lisak, a prominent clinical psychologist who also testified Friday, said that years of trauma blunts the development of the brain's frontal lobe.

"When a child is dominated by an abusive father and then receives similar treatment by an older brother, that child's ability to make decisions is significantly compromised," Lisak said.

Assistant State Attorney Glenn Martin challenged that view.

"Are you telling this jury that he had no choice but to kill each of three people?" Martin said. "He could not just run out of there?"

Lisak responded: "Choice is more complicated than that."

The proceeding resumes Monday.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

Comments

Five Hernando County educators nominated for LifeChanger of the Year Awards

Hernando County Public Schools has five educators in the running for prizes ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 in the 2017-2018 national LifeChanger of the Year awards. The program will give out 17 awards.Travis Bruns and Doug Poteet of Pine Grove Elemen...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
Brooksville church starts ministry to feed the hungry

Brooksville church starts ministry to feed the hungry

BROOKSVILLE ó It was the first sermon of 2017 at Grace World Outreach Church when Sue Bailey heard her pastor, David Garcia, talk about visions."He preached about a huge vision and said we should Ďstay the courseí and not let Satan distract us," Bail...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Need a ride for Gasparilla? Captain Morgan, Lyft can help

Need a ride for Gasparilla? Captain Morgan, Lyft can help

TAMPA ó Need a ride home after Gasparilla? The captainís going to help with that.Captain Morgan Rum and Lyft have teamed up to give away $20,000 worth of discount ridesharing vouchers for Saturdayís Gasparilla Parade of Pirates.GASPARILLA: Check out ...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Chase to make $20B investment, raise wages

Chase to make $20B investment, raise wages

JPMorgan Chase announced Tuesday that it will boost wages, open new branches and hire thousands of new workers, citing improved economic performance and sweeping changes to the U.S. tax code. Wages will rise to between $15 and $18 an hour from a rang...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Column: The left is so used to being sold out that it canít tell when itís winning

Column: The left is so used to being sold out that it canít tell when itís winning

Democrats are feckless. When it counts, they always fold. After all, theyíre more beholden to donors and lobbyists than they are to their base.This narrative is so old, so straightforward, and so pleasingly infuriating that it just rolls off the tong...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
No reports of dog flu in Tampa Bay, but another virus could pose threat

No reports of dog flu in Tampa Bay, but another virus could pose threat

A nasty strain of the flu is sweeping the country and the CDC reports that deadly cases have increased in nearly every region of the United States. To make matters worse, your pets are also at risk of catching their own flu.But while Humane Society o...
Updated: 18 minutes ago

Suspect in custody after man fatally shot in Holiday

HOLIDAY ó A 60-year-old man was arrested by Pasco County Sheriffís deputies Tuesday, after deputies say he fatally shot his neighbor.Deputies identified the man as Qiu Feng Ke during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.The victim, a man in his 30s, ...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Disney offering staff $1,000 bonuses, new education funding

Disney offering staff $1,000 bonuses, new education funding

NEW YORK ó The Walt Disney Co. will give more than 125,000 eligible employees a one-time $1,000 cash bonus and invest $50 million in an education funding program. The media company said Tuesday the bonuses will go to all full and part-time non-execut...
Updated: 23 minutes ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
Troopers: U.S. 19 northbound closed for accident clean-up in Countryside

Troopers: U.S. 19 northbound closed for accident clean-up in Countryside

CLEARWATER ó Northbound lanes of U.S. 19 remain closed in the Countryside area while workers clean up a chemical spill after a Terminix truck flipped over Tuesday morning.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Abdelali El Faqir, 53, was driving nor...
Updated: 1 hour ago