EDITOR’S NOTE: This article began as an emailed response to Warren Bluhm’s column about the Brian M. Cooper trial, “Alcohol is not an excuse,” in the June 26 Door County Advocate. After some discussion Mr. Hagen agreed to its publication as a guest column.
I was the foreman on the jury in this case. The first thing I will tell you is that it has changed me. My mind continues to churn over the details of the case, our deliberation process, and our eventual decision, or lack thereof. I don’t feel like I failed the process, but I definitely came back with some frustrations about how things went, so I think about what-ifs pretty often.
I also came back with a new-found appreciation for the loved-ones in my life: I know that I can still hold my children in my arms, and I have an increased desire to do just that, on a far more frequent basis. I know that Alisha’s family can’t do that. And, while I hate to admit it, I sometimes get teary, and I bet sometimes my kids wonder what in the heck is wrong with me.
This case was not easy. Even I had some sympathy for Mr. Cooper. He was emotional at times, seemed sincere in his remorse. I think that flavored some of the jury briefly — our first vote was 8-4 — but after some discussions, I think the sympathy factor was greatly reduced, and by our second vote, we were down to 10-2, which is where we pretty much stayed from there.
Honestly, our issues really had to do with the intent, along with the voluntary intoxication clause. To prove the two more substantial counts, we had to be confident of basically the same two elements: that Cooper had killed Ms. Bromfield, and that he had intended to do it. If it were as easy as just listening to the 911 call, where he actually said he intended to do it, and confirmed it when the dispatcher asked if he said he intended to, then that would be that. It’s the intoxication clause that really got us.
The gist of what we were instructed was this:
Evidence has been presented which, if believed by you, tends to show that the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the alleged offense … If the defendant was so intoxicated that the defendant did not intend to kill Alisha Bromfield, you must find the defendant not guilty…
We spent a lot of time dicing these words, and in the end, for most of us, they meant that you had to be so drunk that you were on what I called “alcohol auto-pilot.” The general consensus was that if you were that drunk, you probably wouldn’t be able to come in and make a fluid statement that fit the physical evidence like Cooper did.
For two jurors, though, the thoughts were different — in one case, the juror looked at the intoxication clause as meaning something more like, “if he was so intoxicated that he did something that he wouldn’t otherwise have intended to do” — something like that. For her, she didn’t think that he would have done this sober, and the alcohol affected that, and so she couldn’t vote guilty.
I have a less clear picture of the other dissenting juror’s reasoning. My understanding was that she was convinced that he could have been that drunk that he really only remembered the “bits and pieces” he claimed, that he woke up in the morning and looked around and took in the crime scene, that on his drive to northern Door County he was trying to piece together the night, and eventually made up a story that happened to fit all the crime scene evidence he had observed.
And when we talked to her, she would relate his situation to a night where she couldn’t remember what all happened and that she thought she could have made up a story, too; she considered that plausible. I also believe she was predisposed to doubt about the state’s case — while I didn’t actually read her notes, her statements suggested that she had gone into the proceedings writing down things that gave her doubts. So, my impression was she had sought doubt, that it had infiltrated her mind, and it was then impossible for her to come to a finding of guilty.
In the end, we were only able to convict on the sexual assault. I was frustrated by that, partly because to be satisfied on the sexual assault charge, you need to believe the portion of the initial interview where Cooper describes what he did, and it is corroborated by the DNA evidence. In my mind, being satisfied on the other two charges requires you to again believe the story Cooper tells in the same initial interview, and then look at the crime scene evidence and detectives’ accounts as corroboration. I don’t see how the interview was good enough for one count, but not for the other two.
I have great sympathy for Alisha and Ava’s family and friends. I can only imagine their sorrow and their frustration at losing two beautiful girls. And I can certainly imagine their disappointment with our inability to provide the verdict they expected. But please understand that the jury worked hard on this process.
I believe almost every one of us poured our hearts and minds into this process and recognized it as quite possibly the most important decision making process we would do in our lifetimes. For most, if not all of us, we took our jobs very seriously. And we found that we just couldn’t agree on a verdict.
As you mentioned, the state will be able to try this case again. And I expect they will. And next time, I hope, justice is completed.