Make us your home page
Instagram

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Within the first 20 minutes — before they could take a preliminary tally — one man had withdrawn as jury foreman and battle lines had hardened.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

Loading...
  1. Photo gallery: Calvary Christian rolls to state title

    Blogs

    View a gallery of images from Calvary Christian's defeat of Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers for the Class 4A title.

    Calvary Christian players circle up on the field before the FHSAA class 4A baseball championship against Pensacola Catholic on Friday May 27, 2017 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. Calvary scored 6 runs in the first inning, and had 7 hits.
  2. Two girls found safe after being reported missing in New Port Richey

    UPDATE: Both girls were found safe Saturday night, police said.

  3. IT failure blamed for British Airways cancellations (w/video)

    Airlines

    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Saturday as a global IT failure upended the travel plans of tens of thousands of people on a busy U.K. holiday weekend.

    Passengers wait at a British Airways check-in desk after the airport suffered an IT systems failure Saturday at London''s Gatwick Airport. [Associated Press]
  4. Florida softball returns to World Series; FSU baseball in ACC title game

    Colleges

    GAINESVILLE — Florida defeated Alabama 2-1 Saturday to win the deciding Game 3 of their softball Super Region, putting the Gators in the Women's College World Series for the eighth time in program history.

    ’NOLE POWER: FSU’s Dylan Busby, right, is congratulated by teammate Taylor Walls after Busby’s homer against Duke.
  5. Calvary Christian routs Pensacola Catholic to win state baseball title

    Baseballpreps

    FORT MYERS — Calvary Christian left no doubt as to which baseball team in Class 4A was the best in Florida this season. The Warriors defeated Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium to claim the school's first state championship in any team sport. It also solidified a 30-0 season. …

    Matheu Nelson celebrates after scoring on a wild pitch during the first inning, when Calvary Christian took a 6-0 lead.