Make us your home page

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.


“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 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

  1. Tampa Bay Super Bowls: A brief history and some predictions for 2021


    At last, Tampa will host a Super Bowl again. It used to be that the Cigar City would host one a decade, but by the time February 2021 rolls around, it will have been 12 years since the epic showdown between the Steelers and Cardinals. Because it has been awhile, let's revisit those past Super Bowls while also peering …

    Santonio Holmes hauls in the game-winning touchdown in the Steelers' 27-23 Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Cardinals in 2009, the last time Tampa hosted a Super Bowl. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
  2. Rays bats go silent in second straight loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Sure, Alex Cobb was to blame for the Rays' 4-0 loss on Tuesday.

    Derek Norris strikes out with the bases loaded as the Rays blow a golden opportunity in the seventh inning.
  3. Analysis: Manchester attack was exactly what many had long feared


    LONDON — For Britain's security agencies, London always seemed like the likely target. For years, the capital of 8 million with hundreds of thousands of weekly tourists and dozens of transit hubs had prepared for and feared a major terror attack.

  4. Dade City man dies after crashing into county bus, troopers say

    Public Safety

    ZEPHYRHILLS — A 38-year-old man died Tuesday after colliding into the rear of a county bus on U.S. 301, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

  5. Suspicious device at Pinellas Park home was a spent artillery round, police say

    Public Safety

    PINELLAS PARK — Bomb squad investigators determined that a "suspicious device" found at a Pinellas Park home Tuesday afternoon was a spent artillery round, police said.