November 23, 2016 — Jurors on Monday handed down a guilty verdict in the re-trial of Clinton Cooper’s sexual assault case. Cooper was charged last year with sexual assault on a child as a pattern of abuse after a 13-year-old girl’s sister disclosed having seen him sexually abusing the teen.
The victim asked her sister not to tell, but the sister eventually told a family friend during a bowling trip, then her grandmother, before disclosing to their mother.
“The District Attorney’s Office wishes to thank the members of the jury for their willingness to participate in these always challenging and meaningful cases,” prosecutor Seth Ryan said in a statement.
Cooper’s defense attorneys, Andrew Nolan and Christopher Decker, told the jury there was a lack of physical evidence, that the timeline did not fit with the allegations, and of shifting stories among witnesses.
Pat Cooper maintains her son is innocent.
“Mr. Decker and Mr. Nolan both said you cannot let feelings override the facts and when you put facts in a timeline in front of people and they go with their feelings, not the facts, innocent lives are messed up,” she said.
“We aren’t in there with the jury during deliberations and neither is she,” Ryan said.
He said he has to limit his comments until after Cooper is sentenced Jan. 30.
“The jury was instructed they have to follow the evidence and only convict if all the evidence has been proven,” District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller said. “It’s always our burden; it’s a very high burden and it was met in this case.”
During closing arguments Monday, Ryan said there was no mistake about what the victim’s sister saw, and no mistake about what another witness heard.
Ryan reiterated disputed evidence over the purchase of a fish as a possible bribe to keep the sister quiet, which the defense team said was purchased on a different date than what would have fit with that assertion, and further was purchased by the children’s mother, not Cooper.
Ryan also reminded the jury of phone calls between Cooper and the mother after her children disclosed to her. He said the woman’s hair stylist heard Cooper suggesting that he touched the girl by accident.
But had the behavior been innocent, both Cooper and the girl could have simply explained that, Ryan said.
“(Child) had a sincere and correct (thought) about what she observed,” Ryan said.
“It’s about proof,” Decker countered.
What the prosecutors had instead done was cobble together inconsistent testimony and timelines, but that doesn’t overcome reasonable doubt, he said.
The victim was “very inconsistent” about what had happened, and had even changed her story after being ushered out of an interview, Decker said.
He also raised questions about the clarity of the children’s mother and said the investigation failed in fundamental areas.
“There is no corroboration,” Decker said, arguing the prosecution was attempting to shift the burden of proof.
“This is a courtroom of proof, of evidence… Follow the law. Be fair. Acquit Mr. Cooper on this failed evidence.”
Jurors returned a guilty verdict after 6 p.m. Monday. A previous jury had not been able to reach a verdict, which resulted in a mistrial and sent the case back to court starting last week.
In pre-trial motions, Cooper sought to introduce evidence of “other acts,” which included allegations the same young girls had been coached in the past to make false statements about another person. This evidence tended to establish the allegations against Cooper were false, Nolan argued in the motions.
Ryan responded that evidence contradicts claims of coaching.
Pat Cooper supplied the Montrose Daily Press with Health and Human Services and other records that detailed past complaints of abuse against someone other than Cooper; these complaints were deemed unfounded. In these civil records dating from 2010 are allegations of coaching.
The courts must follow rules of admissibility and these were followed in Cooper’s criminal case, Hotsenpiller said.
“Mr. Cooper was convicted on the admissible evidence in a court of law,” Hotsenpiller said.
“It is our job as prosecutors to help victims tell their story, tell them what has happened to them, even when the circumstances are traumatic, when it might feel embarrassing to them, or that they would rather not have to tell 12 strangers what happened to them.”
People v. Clinton Cooper, 2016 CR 20 (Montrose)