The jury foreman for the Brian M. Cooper trial described a hard-working, conflicted group in emails and conversations with the Door County Advocate this week.
And separately, the family of Alisha Bromfield released a statement Friday to voice their frustration with the system after the jury could not reach agreement on Cooper’s guilt.
Cooper, 36, of Plainfield, Ill., was charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and third-degree sexual assault for the Aug. 19 strangulation death of Bromfield, 21, also of Plainfield, and the resulting death of her unborn daughter, Ava. On June 22 the jury found Cooper guilty of the sexual assault charge but could not reach a consensus on whether the murder fit the legal definition of “intentional” homicide.
As a result the case is probably headed for a retrial later this year. Door County Circuit Judge D. Todd Ehlers will consider motions in the case Tuesday morning.
Mark Hagen of Wisconsin Rapids decided to speak out after reading the column “Alcohol is not an excuse” written by Warren Bluhm, associate editor, in Wednesday’s Advocate. Hagen was one of 14 Wood County residents picked to hear the weeklong homicide trial June 17-22 and was selected as foreman.
Hagen said he wanted to give people his perspective and to clarify what went on during 14 hours of jury deliberations over two days.
He said the first vote was 8-4 in favor of conviction and later the vote changed to 10-2. Toward the end of the first day Friday night, June 21, the vote swung to 11-1 in favor of conviction. Saturday morning’s vote was 10-2 again.
“The person who changed from not guilty to guilty had changed her mind (again) ... pretty set on her opinion,” he said.
The jurors worked through the instructions Ehlers gave them and reviewed the evidence after each vote.
The greatest disagreement came over the meaning of a line in those jury instructions regarding intent, he said: “If the defendant was so intoxicated that the defendant did not intend to kill Alisha Bromfield, you must find the defendant not guilty of first-degree intentional homicide.”
“In the end we weren’t able to come to a complete consensus one way or another,” Hagen said.
Despite being unable to reach a verdict on intentional homicide, the group did find Cooper guilty of the sexual assault, which occurred after Bromfield was dead. Hagen said, for him, the DNA found on the body corroborated the other evidence that a sexual assault took place.
He said the key evidence for his decision to vote guilty on the homicide charges came from Cooper’s interview with Door County Sheriff’s Investigator Mark Winkel and how it fit with the evidence from the crime scene.
“I voted guilty ... to me the evidence was reasonably clear,” Hagen said. “It’s not like I didn’t have sympathy for the guy, because I did.”
Hagen can only speculate what happened with the one female juror who, from all accounts, stopped taking part in jury deliberations June 22.
“I don’t know. I sometimes wonder if it was really all an issue of legal interpretations, or if there was some inability to make a guilty judgment on a charge that was that serious,” he said.
Hagen stressed that the jury did not take its duty lightly.
“I just hope they understand that we took our job very seriously as jurors. We all came in there trying to make sure that we balanced reasonable doubt with the presumption of innocence,” he said.
He still finds himself going over details of the trial in his head, and the experience affected him deeply and personally.
“I would like Alisha and Ava’s family to know that my prayers go out to them,” Hagen wrote in a followup email. “What happened was a tragedy, and these two beautiful women were (taken) from them too soon. But I hope they are able to have some peace, both eventually from the court system, and also just from knowing that Alisha and Ava have gone on to a better place, and they’ll be reunited with them someday.”
In their statement, Bromfield’s parents and stepparents called for the state of Wisconsin to amend a statute that allowed Cooper to claim he “drank to the point that he could not form intent to commit the murders.”
Her mother, Sherry Anicich, said they chose to issue a statement “because Alisha has no voice and we are her voice.”
The family previously chose to keep quiet because they didn’t want to “interrupt the legal process,” Anicich said, but now after the first trial everything is public now.
“When you see your daughter up there dead ... it just changes everything,” she said.
Anicich said the family is working with a Wisconsin lawmaker to try and change the statute to reduce a defendant’s ability to use intoxication or drugged condition as a legal defense.
“Like (District Attorney Raymond) Pelrine’s talking and (defense attorney Shane) Brabazon’s talking, and no one is talking on behalf of Alisha,” Anicich said.
Contact Samantha Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org or (920) 743-3321, Ext. 112.