January 31, 2017 — One side of a Montrose courtroom Monday was filled with those adamant that Clinton Cooper had been wrongly convicted; the other, with his victim and her supporters who told of how he destroyed her.
Between the parties hung, in the words of the judge and attorneys, “anger” and “confusion.”
“I stand here, not as a victim, but as a survivor,” the teenage girl Cooper was convicted of sexually assaulting said.
In her statement, the victim said she intends to stand against “monsters like Clint,” whom her mother later called “a ruthless predator.”
Patricia Cooper, who maintains that her son is innocent, later tried to say that the picture the girl and others were painting of a supportive, loving household minus Cooper were at odds with reality. Deputy District Attorney Seth Ryan objected, calling Cooper’s words “victim-bashing.”
Patricia Cooper previously supplied the Montrose Daily Press with Health and Human Services records and other documents showing previous complaints of abuse against someone other than her son, which were deemed unfounded.
The civil records also contain allegations of coaching in that previous matter, but attempts by Cooper’s defense to introduce similar allegations failed. In court filings, Ryan, too, said the evidence contradicts claims of coaching.
“It was up to a jury of 12 people,” District Judge Keri Yoder said at the start of Cooper’s sentencing hearing Monday.
Yoder acknowledged that Cooper intends to appeal is conviction for sexual assault on a child as a pattern of abuse, and that his family disagrees with the guilty verdict handed down last November. A previous trial ended with a hung jury.
“We’re not here to talk about that today,” Yoder said, explaining that the law left her with few sentencing options. Cooper had to be sentenced to at least eight years in prison because of his conviction of the class-3 felony, the judge said.
Surrounded by her family and members of the Bikers Against Child Abuse motorcycle club, the victim, now in her teens, recounted the traumatic effects of Cooper’s abuse.
Ryan said it had started with tickling and progressed to sexual assault. At last, in 2014, the girl’s sister walked by her bedroom and saw Cooper committing the crime. She eventually disclosed to their mother, and Cooper was charged in 2015.
The victim on Monday said she would like to believe that wrongdoing is an accident, but Cooper kept harming her — that’s not an accident, she said. Further, she said she lost her relationship with his family, whom she had loved.
“I can feel the bitter cold coming off of them,” she said.
The teen said Cooper turned her world upside down, leaving her fearful and depressed.
The victim asked for the maximum sentence of 24 years to indeterminate incarceration, saying this was necessary to make the correct impression on Cooper and to protect others.
The girl’s sister, in a statement read by a member of the bikers club, said she hates that children who go through what her sister did feel like it is their fault. The experience taught her not to be manipulated into silence, she said, also telling others not to keep abuse secret.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover and the first few pages in it,” the sister said, telling the court how she, her siblings and their mother had to move four times in one year and that she is now hesitant in trusting men.
“This wasn’t easy on any of us,” the child said.
A victims’ advocate read a statement on behalf of the girls’ mother.
“We had everything, or at least I thought we did,” the woman said through the statement. When she learned of the abuse, she went into shock.
“He is a ruthless predator and needs to be put away for a very long time,” the mother said, later accusing Patricia Cooper of making her life difficult and adding that Clinton Cooper was cold and heartless.
“It is clear he feels no remorse as he sits in the chair acting like he’s above the law because of his family’s money,” the woman said.
“This has had a profound effect,” Ryan said. “…The evidence showed this was an act perpetrated over an extremely long time. I’m going to support the victim’s recommendations here.”
But defense attorney Christopher Decker said Cooper does not consider himself above the law. Rather, he is keeping silent in the sentencing process because he is appealing and has a constitutional right against making statements that could be used to incriminate him.
Cooper has no prior criminal history and scored low on the portions of psychosexual and other evaluations that did not require him to make statements, Decker said.
“There is a lot of anger in this courtroom today. Nothing the court can do will wipe away the hurt, wipe away the anger, wipe away the disappointment” on both sides, Decker said.
“Mr. Cooper’s family believes there has been a horrible miscarriage of justice,” while the victim and her family feel outrage, he said.
Decker asked for eight to 10 years, calling that a substantial sentence.
“He’s never been in trouble before and if you look at the past history of people here, you’ll (see it),” Patricia Cooper said.
Yoder again acknowledged the anger and sadness the case has brought. The purpose of sentencing is punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation and promoting responsibility by offenders, she said.
“I don’t know what comfort I can give you as victims,” the judge said.
Cooper’s lack of criminal record, low risk score, community and family support, plus employment are mitigating factors, but the nature and duration of the offense are aggravating factors, as were the victim’s age and grooming tactics used, Yoder said.
“When you start doing that to someone that age, it’s uphill (for the victim)… That’s ruining someone’s life,” the judge said.
She said she was happy the victim considers herself a survivor and also praised the girl and her sister for their poise.
“Something unforgivable has happened to you,” Yoder said.
She sentenced Cooper to 16 years to life in prison, with 20 years to life parole. (Colorado’s indeterminate sentencing law for these types of sex offenses can result in an offender remaining incarcerated for life.)
“It’s a terrible situation. You deserve to go to prison,” Yoder told Cooper. “I hope you accept responsibility for this.”