Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jury didn't see eye-to-eye on triple murderer during trial, or after

Richard Michael Cooper will be resentenced today.

Richard Michael Cooper will be resentenced today.

CLEARWATER — The jurors retired to a conference room down the hall and began to weigh their options.

Would they recommend that Richard Cooper, who participated in the shotgun slayings of three men more than 30 years ago, remain on death row? Or would they factor in new information about his horrific childhood and advise that his sentence be changed to life in prison?

Within the first 20 minutes — before they could take a preliminary tally — one man had withdrawn as jury foreman and battle lines had hardened.

Their bumpy ride concludes today when a judge will make a final decision.

The stakes could not be higher for Cooper, 50, who had fired a shotgun early on June 18, 1982 — part of a robbery resulting in the deaths of Steven Fridella, 26; Bobby Martindale, 24; and Gary Petersen, 21.

Cooper, who was 18 at the time, argued that he and two other men had acted under the spell of ringleader Jason "J.D." Walton. A jury in 1984 found him guilty on three counts of first-degree murder.

He would have stayed on death row if a federal appeals court in 2011 had not vacated his death sentence, sending him to be retried in Pinellas County.

The reason? The original jury never heard of the extensive physical and psychological abuse Cooper suffered as a child, the court said.

His resentencing trial began in late February and quickly went awry over problems with the jury. One male juror was dismissed for repeatedly falling asleep during prosecutor Jim Hellickson's opening statement.

Another issue arose with juror Benjamin Rose. According to two fellow jurors, Rose had been encouraging his peers to extend the trial in order to collect more jury pay.

Rose stoically accepted an admonishment by Judge Keith Meyer. He later told the Tampa Bay Times he was only being sarcastic because other jurors were acting like they couldn't wait to go home.

"Most of the people couldn't give a damn since the trial, which they are paid to attend, interferes with their self-absorbed existences," said Rose, 44, a former librarian who said he now works as a freelance researcher. "What is it to them that a man might die after suffering through a childhood from the bowels of hell?"

The jurors were tasked with one duty: Determine whether the abuse warranted changing Cooper's death sentence to life in prison. Rose recommended life.

Michael Gregg, a trucker, disagrees with Rose's characterization.

"We were not there to negotiate with each other," said Gregg, 56, who voted for death. "We were there to give our opinion on the evidence we heard as clearly as possible, and that's what we did."

If there's one thing Rose and Gregg can agree on, it's this: Not much negotiation took place.

One juror said she believed Cooper should die for his crimes and nothing would change her mind, both men said.

Gregg was chosen jury foreman at the start of deliberations. His term lasted about 20 minutes, when, by his own account, he began shouting at a ship captain who favored a life sentence.

Gregg stepped down.

Rose acknowledged not answering a question posed to prospective jurors — a requested show of hands by anyone who had suffered abuse as a child.

As a boy, Rose said, he had been molested by a camp counselor and suffered "physical, psychological and emotional abuse" by other adults growing up.

He also said he has both Asperger's and Tourette's syndromes and has been bullied. Asked why he did not raise his hand during jury selection, Rose said that "abuse" was not defined in the question.

Moreover, he said, "It was none of their damned business."

Sympathetic to Cooper, he began making a point of smiling at the defendant when he entered the courtroom.

"I felt like someone needed to smile at him and let him know, 'Brother, this is all going to be okay,' " Rose said.

By the third vote, the jury was still deadlocked, 6-6. Since a tie goes to the defendant, Cooper could be resentenced to life if Meyer accepts the jury's recommendation. The judge will render his decision today.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (727) 892-2248.

Jury didn't see eye-to-eye on triple murderer during trial, or after 05/08/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 8, 2014 10:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Two boys in critical condition after Largo crash


    LARGO — A 7-year-old boy was thrown from a car in a head-on crash on Starkey Road, and both he and a 6-year-old boy were in critical condition Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  2. Trump's new order bars almost all travel from seven countries


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a new order banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

    President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Sunday upon his return to the White House in Washington.
  3. Somehow, Rays' Chris Archer remains just shy of being an ace

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Chris Archer had another bad game Sunday.

    Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
  4. In Mexico City, hopes of finding quake survivors dwindle


    MEXICO CITY — Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the hulking wreckage of what used to be a seven-story office building is one of the last hopes: one of just two sites left where searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive in Mexico City.

    Rescue workers search for survivors inside a felled office building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City on Saturday.
  5. GOP health bill in major peril as resistance hardens among key senators


    WASHINGTON — The floundering Republican attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act met hardening resistance from key GOP senators Sunday that left it on the verge of collapse even as advocates vowed to keep pushing for a vote this week.

    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate, said Sunday that it was “very difficult” to envision voting for this health-care bill.