'We can finally grieve'

Jury convicts Brian M. Cooper of intentional homicide

May 10, 2014

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Joe and Sherry Anicich, stepfather and mother of Alisha Bromfield, left, and Jim Heisner, father of Bromfield, with wife, Amy, right, react to the verdict Friday afternoon. In between the couples is family friend Sue Brune. / Tina M. Gohr/Door County Advocate
Brian M. Cooper, left, gestures to his mother, Connie Cooper, right, after being convicted of two counts of first-degree intentional homicide. Standing in between is Door County Sheriff Terry Vogel. / Tina M. Gohr/Door County Advocate


Alisha Bromfield’s parents and their spouses hugged and cried together in the gallery of a Door County courtroom Friday after their daughter’s killer was found guilty of two counts of first-degree intentional homicide.

Brian M. Cooper, 37, was charged in the Aug. 19, 2012, strangulation death of Bromfield, 21, who was six months pregnant, at a Nasewaupee resort. The second count was for Bromfield’s unborn daughter, whom she had already named Ava. During his first trial he was found guilty of third-degree sexual assault. The jury in the first trial was hung 10-2 in favor of conviction on the two counts of first-degree intentional homicide. Cooper was not the baby’s father.

After just 2½ hours deliberations Friday, the jury of eight women and four men from Dodge County reached the verdict. During the first five-day trial the jury did not return with its decision on the sexual assault charge until the second day of deliberations. Spectators packed the benches of the courtroom after it was announced the jury had reached a decision.

Many of Bromfield’s supporters clutched purple rosaries. Brian Cooper’s sister Kellie Stryker was one of those people. Both she and her husband Steve Stryker wore purple, Bromfield’s favorite color, and sat with Bromfield’s family and friends. Stryker became one of Bromfield’s supporters shortly after she testified in her brother’s first trial.

Cooper did not appear to react when the guilty verdicts were read. His mother, Connie Cooper; cousin Reid Paxson, and several other of his supporters were seated behind him. Both Connie Cooper and Paxson had testified on Cooper’s behalf.

Bromfield’s parents, Sherry Anicich and Jim Heisner, were emotional after the verdict was announced. The two, along with Anicich’s husband, Joe Anicich, and Heisner’s wife, Amy Heisner, stood at the front of the gallery with their arms around each other.

“Oh God, that we can finally grieve our daughter,” Anicich said with tears running down her face. “I’m so happy Ray never gave up. We are so happy Ray never gave up.” She was referring to Door County District Attorney Raymond Pelrine.

Heisner was equally moved. He talked to the Door County Advocate with his arm around his wife.

“I’m happy with the results. He’s going where he belongs, to jail. Hopefully the judge says life,” Heisner said.

Amy Heisner agreed.

“We don’t have to deal with him anymore,” she said.

“Small chapter closed,” Heisner said.

The family could be heard cheering in the room set aside for them at the courthouse.

“I can breathe now. I know she is with us,” Anicich said.

Closing arguments

The jury spent all of Friday morning hearing closing arguments from Pelrine and defense attorney John Birdsall.

Pelrine showed the jury two sets of photos of Bromfield and her unborn daughter, Ava. First jurors saw a widely circulated photo of Bromfield with her hair done up and an ultrasound photo of Ava.

“We know why they haven’t been able to be here this week — because that man killed them,” he said, pointing at Cooper.

Next he showed a photo of Bromfield’s battered face and another of her unborn baby, this time lying on a table.

“A life was taken. Two lives were taken,” Pelrine said.

Pelrine also set a timer for two minutes, to show the jury how long Cooper strangled Bromfield. In an interview after his arrest, two minutes is how long Cooper estimated it took for Bromfield to die.

“It seems like an eternity as the seconds tick by,” Pelrine said after the timer beeped.

For the majority of the closing arguments, Cooper appeared stoic.

Pelrine talked to the jury about Cooper’s “snippets” of memory.

The “cornerstone” of Cooper’s defense “has to do with his memory, his claimed lack of memory” and whether he could form intent to kill, Pelrine said.

He pointed out Cooper described what happened, several times in detail, to the 911 operator and later Door County Sheriff’s Investigator Mark Winkel. Cooper made no mention of “snippets” or other memory loss in any of his interviews.

Birdsall told the jury Cooper’s “remorse” at what he had done is clear in the 911 call.

“He’s crying. The reason he is crying (is because Bromfield is dead),” he said.

He stressed Cooper and Bromfield’s friendship to the jury. He showed them photos of the two from the wedding. After Bromfield was abandoned by Ava’s father and many of her friends, the two became companions.

“She stuck with” her pregnancy and “he stuck with her,” Birdsall said.

Before closing, he turned the jury’s attention to Winkel’s comments to Cooper during his Aug. 19, 2012, interview. Winkel told the defendant he did not think Cooper would have killed Bromfield if he was sober.

“I don’t think he would have done it either. Alcohol impairs judgment,” Birdsall said.

Cooper is scheduled to be sentenced at 1 p.m. July 24. Judge D. Todd Ehlers scheduled a half-day for the sentencing hearing.

Contact Samantha Hernandez at svhernande@doorcountyadvocate.com or (920) 743-3321, Ext. 112.

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