Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas man will not be executed for three murders in 1982

“I blame only myself,” Richard Cooper said Friday as he read an apology to the families of the men murdered in 1982, when he was 18.

LARA CERRI | Times

“I blame only myself,” Richard Cooper said Friday as he read an apology to the families of the men murdered in 1982, when he was 18.

LARGO — Richard Cooper will not be put to death for his role in a 1982 triple shooting.

A judge on Friday upheld a jury's recommendation in March that Cooper's death sentence be commuted to life in prison. Cooper was 18 when he fired a shotgun four times, resulting in the deaths of three Largo men.

Though the new sentence holds out the possibility of parole, Cooper, now 50, will likely die in prison.

His lawyers spent part of Friday arguing that Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Keith Meyer should issue the three life sentences concurrently, or at the same time. That would mean that — in theory, at least — Cooper could have soon walked free.

Meyer rejected that request and ordered the sentences to run consecutively, meaning Cooper will not be eligible for parole until he is at least 93.

"We're relieved that this case now is finally over," said George Kendall, the lead attorney on Cooper's pro bono team of lawyers. "A life sentence has been imposed, and we hope that people can move on."

For Cooper's sake, that is still a better outcome than the three death sentences he received in 1984. In 2011, a federal appeals court vacated those sentences, saying the jury should have heard evidence of the abuse Cooper suffered as a child. That included a near-daily schedule of beatings at the hands of his father and the abandonment of a mother who was fleeing the assaults herself.

"His life was awash in unrelenting violence, not by unknown people but by his father and brother," Kendall said in court Friday.

As a result of the abuse, Cooper began to "self-medicate" with alcohol and drugs from age 11, Kendall said, which led to a diminished intellectual and social capacity.

The appeals court cited testimony that Cooper's IQ had been measured at 75. Such a man, his lawyers said, could not have planned the execution-style slayings of Steven Fridella, 26; Bobby Martindale, 24; and Gary Petersen, 21.

Instead, Kendall said, Cooper had been "a follower, carefully chosen" by Jason Dirk "J.D." Walton, 23, an Army veteran and the acknowledged ringleader of the four Citrus County men charged in the drug-related murders, which occurred after a robbery gone bad. (Walton is the only one of the group who remains on death row.)

Cooper's mostly good record in prison, coupled with his doting relationships with nieces and nephews, add up to concurrent sentences that "could leave the prison door slightly ajar," Kendall argued.

Countering the image of a rehabilitated inmate who could be considered for parole, Assistant State Attorney Glenn Martin hit on the facts and the law.

Giving Cooper only one life sentence when three lives were taken, he said, would be akin to saying "the other two (deaths) weren't worth punishing."

As for Cooper mentoring his niece, Martin said: "He can do that from prison."

For the first time in this resentencing trial, the court heard from Cooper.

Wearing blue prison scrubs and reading from a single sheet of paper, he apologized for the crimes in a halting, almost staccato delivery.

The defendant said he had "no excuse" and had spent the past 30 years wondering how he could have participated in a robbery that resulted in three murders.

"Was my abuse a factor? Yes. Were alcohol and drugs a factor? Yes. But the one thing that has brought me the most shame is my cowardice."

Cooper also apologized to the families of the victims, starting with Fridella's, and at that point his voice seemed briefly tinged with emotion.

"There are no words to express the sorrow I feel," he said. "I take full responsibility for my cowardice that caused the death of your father, your brother, your son. . . . I am sorry."

In rendering his decision, Meyer told Cooper he believed the apology was heartfelt.

However, he said, "I can't say it's my place to put you in a position to be released potentially today."

The reason, Meyer said, was the gravity of the crimes.

"Though it was one episode, it was three living, breathing people whose lives were snuffed out that day," the judge said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

Pinellas man will not be executed for three murders in 1982 05/09/14 [Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2014 9:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lego T-rex and scores of other brick sculptures free to see in Tampa

    News

    TAMPA — Envision the effort that went into building a basic Lego model with your kids. Now imagine arranging the same toys to look like the Mona Lisa or an 80,020-piece Tyrannosaurus rex.

    Eliana Goldberg, 5, of Wesley Chapel looks at a Lego sculpture called "Everlasting" at The Art of the Brick exhibit, which opened Friday in Tampa and runs through Sept. 4. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  2. Rick Scott signs medical marijuana, 38 other bills into law

    Blogs

    Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott
  3. St. Pete qualifying ends. Seven for mayor. Eight for District 6 on primary ballot

    Blogs

    The smiles of the faces of the workers in the City Clerk’s office said it all. The qualifying period for city elections was almost over.

    City Clerk Chan Srinivasa (2nd left) and Senior Deputy City Clerk  Cathy Davis (1st left) celebrate the end of qualifying period with colleagues on Friday afternoon
  4. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county

    Water

    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.
  5. Registered sexual predator charged in assault of woman in Brooksville

    Public Safety

    Times Staff Writer

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County deputies arrested a registered sexual predator Thursday after they say he attempted to assault a woman and fled into a storm drain.

    Lee Roy Rettley has been charged with attempted homicide, attempted sexual battery and home invasion robbery.