THE LAST CASE
THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY for Cumberland County, North Carolina, Marc Sherman, pushed the old wooden captain's chair away from the prosecution table, and it made a harsh, scraping eeek in the nearly silent courtroom. Then Sherman rose and slowly approached the jury box, where nine women and three men six white, six African American waited with anticipation to hear what he had to say. They liked Sherman. He knew that, even expected it. He also knew that he had already won this dramatic murder case, even without the stirring summation he was about to give.
But he was going to give this closing anyway. He felt the need to see Sergeant Ellis Cooper held accountable for his crimes. The soldier had committed the most heinous and cowardly murders in the history of Cumberland County, North Carolina. The so-called Bluelady Murders. The people in this county expected Sherman to punish Ellis Cooper, who happened to be a black man, and he wouldn't disappoint them.
The district attorney began: "I have been doing this for a while seventeen years, to be exact. In all that time, I have never encountered murders such as those committed in December last, by the defendant, Sergeant Ellis Cooper. What began as a jealous rage aimed at one victim, Tanya Jackson, spilled over into the shameless massacre of three women. All were wives, all were mothers. Together these women had eleven children and, of course, three grieving husbands and countless other family members, neighbors, and dear friends.
"The fateful night was a Friday, 'ladies' night' for Tanya Jackson, Barbara Green, and Maureen Bruno. While their husbands enjoyed their usual card night at Fort Bragg, the wives got together for some personal talk, some laughter, and the treasured companionship of one another. Tanya, Barbara, and Maureen were great friends, you understand. This Friday night get-together took place at the home of the Jacksons, where Tanya and Abraham were raising their four children.
"Around ten o'clock, after consuming at least half a dozen shots of alcohol at the base, Sergeant Cooper went to the Jackson house. As you have heard in sworn testimony, he was seen outside the front door by two neighbors. He was yelling for Mrs. Jackson to come out.
"Then Sergeant Cooper barged into the house. Using an RTAK survival knife, a lightweight weapon favored by United States Army Special Forces, he attacked the woman who had spurned his advances. He killed Tanya Jackson instantly with a single knife thrust.
"Sergeant Ellis Cooper then turned the knife on thirty-one-year-old Barbara Green. And finally, on Maureen Bruno, who nearly made it out of the slaughterhouse but was caught by Cooper at the front door. All three women were killed with thrusts delivered by a powerful male, who has taught hand-to-hand fighting techniques at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, headquarters for the Army Special Forces.
"The survival knife has been identified as Sergeant Cooper's personal property, a deadly weapon he had kept since the early 1970s, when he left Vietnam. Sergeant Cooper's fingerprints were all over the knife.
"His prints were also found on the clothing of Mrs. Jackson and Mrs. Green. DNA from particles of skin found under the nails of Mrs. Jackson were matched to Sergeant Cooper. Strands of his hair were found at the murder scene. The murder weapon itself was discovered hidden in the attic of Cooper's house. So were pathetic 'love letters' he had written to Tanya Jackson returned unopened.
"You have seen unspeakable photographs of what Sergeant Cooper did to the three women. Once they were dead, he painted the women's faces with ghoulish-looking blue paint. He painted their chests and stomachs. It is gruesome and twisted. As I said, the worst murders I have ever encountered. You know that there can be only one verdict. That verdict is guilty! Put this monster down!"
Copyright © 2002 by James Patterson
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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