|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Copyright 2013 - Polk County Publishing Company
Cooper gets five 99-year sentences for sexual assault of a child
BY VALERIE REDDELL
LIVINGSTON — A jury of 10 women and two men took about 45 minutes to find Eric Eugene Cooper guilty of five counts of sexual assault of a child after retiring to the jury room Wednesday afternoon. They returned to the courthouse Thursday expecting to begin proceedings on the sentencing phase of the trial. After a one-day delay, they sentenced him to five 99-year prison sentences. 258th District Judge Elizabeth Coker then ordered those five sentences stacked. The jurors also imposed a $10,000 fine on each charge in the event Cooper does receive some sort of future income. Cooper didn't face the jury Thursday, or the seven women who were former wives, fiancées and victims of his earlier bad acts. They who had been subpoenaed by the state to testify during sentencing. However, when it was time to bring Cooper to the Polk County Judicial Center, Cooper wasn't in the booking area of the jail, Transport Deputy Spillman would eventually testify Thursday. He and Sgt. Bernitta Langley went back to his unit and found him to be "groggy." Cooper uses an insulin pump to manage his diabetes. As Dr. Ray Luna would later testify, and medical records introduced in a hearing would show, Cooper's blood sugar levels had been steady throughout his confinement in the Polk County Jail, except for a few instances of high blood sugar. On Thursday morning, Cooper had refused his tray breakfast (as he customarily does), in favor of food provided by family members that he is allowed to keep in his cell due to his medical condition. When he complained of not feeling well after arriving at the Judicial Center, deputies took his blood sugar and determined it was very low. They contacted the clinic at the jail and the medical assistant and Dr. Luna made several recommendations of snacks, but Cooper was not taking adequate amounts of food or drinks orally to raise his blood sugar and EMS was called. EMTs started an IV and Cooper was given an large injection of sugar. Shortly after he learned that he would be released to the care of the jail medical assistant so the hearing could resume, Cooper began having jerking movements and his face turned red, so EMS personnel advised again contacted Dr. Luna and they determined that he needed to be taken to the hospital for further evaluation. After Cooper was seen by the emergency room physician, Dr. Luna testified that Cooper has suffered from a self-induced insulin overdose. He said the condition would resolve in a few hours and the trial could proceed Friday. On Friday, Cooper began complaining of headache and lower, right quadrant abdominal pain, but Luna advised that he could appear in court and remained with Cooper throughout the initial few hours of the hearing. Cooper sat at the defense table in a wheelchair with an IV in his arm. The jail medical assistant Ms. Cole checked his blood sugar every hour throughout the hearing using a talking glucometer. The indictments that were the subject of this week's trial relate to three incidents of sexual contact between Cooper and a 14-year-old girl he met at First Assembly of God in Onalaska where he played drums in a praise band and took and active role in other areas of church work. The indictment charges Cooper sexually assaulted the child, who was given the pseudonym Amber Gray, twice at the church while services were being held and a third time at her home while her parents and Cooper's wife were attending a church function. First Assistant District Attorney Joe Martin said Amber's parents confronted her on July 5, 2001 after noticing that she had been far more defiant than normal for a teenager. As punishment they took her phone away from her, and had to use physical force to do so. Upon examining the phone, Amber's mother recognized Eric's phone number and called his wife. Mrs. Cooper said she did not use that phone, it was Eric's. Then Amber's parent's looked Eric up on the Internet. "At that point the child realized how she had been scammed," Martin said. "She confessed three occasions of sexual contact between her and Eric — twice at church and one at home." She also produced two pairs of men's boxer underwear she said Cooper had given her; an engagement ring, two necklaces and a shirt." Cooper also told her he had been adopted like she was and he was "there for her." "She would sneak out and go riding around in his truck with him," Martin added. "He had told her they would run off to various places, possibly Germany." The shorts, other clothing and bedding was sent to the DPS crime lab. The underwear came back positive with a mixture of Cooper and the victim's DNA on the waistband and crotch area. "The only attempted explanation from the defense is that they got mixed together in the church's clothes pantry," Martin said. Cooper's current (but estranged) wife cooperated with investigators and prosecutors in this case. She told police a few days prior to Amber's outcry she had found Mr. Cooper's phone and located a picture of him kissing the child. He claimed it wasn't him and then destroyed the phone. She made him show her his phone records on the computer and confirmed the phone calls. Martin said there were 60 calls to the victim's phone, many of them over an hour in length. Several close to two hours. Often they occurred late at night or in the early morning hours. Mrs. Cooper confirmed that the boxer shorts were Cooper's, she had given them to him. They were of a distinctive design. She also confirmed that the necklaces were his. She also brought a homeschool brochure to Onalaska Police Chief Ron Gilbert that came in the mail after Cooper was taken to jail. Cooper had told the victim he would home-school her after they ran away together. Seven of Cooper's former wives and fiancées who could be located testified Friday in the punishment phase of the trial. Several of them met him shortly after high school and were swept off their feet by a man in a naval uniform who claimed to be a fighter pilot. Cooper only ever served a few months in the Navy. Often he used a fake name with his conquests. Brandy Bowden had only known him for a few months in 2000 when they got engaged at Christmas. She learned she was pregnant on Feb. 1, 2000. At first, she planned to marry right away but got suspicious of him. There were no government plates on his supposedly government vehicle. He used the name Tyler Lee and he said he transferred here from California to work as a JAG officer, but when her parents had his license plates checked out, the vehicle was registered Eric Eugene Cooper in Shepherd. Then he claimed his grandfather died. But when Brandy went to the cemetery, the gravesite did not look like there had just been a burial. She talked to the funeral home and they confirmed there had not been a service. There was no casket. Just fresh flowers. Brandy went looking for Eric's grandparents and found them — both of them sitting on their porch in Shepherd. "I was shocked," Bowden said. She testified that Eric pretended to go to work as a Naval officer with an AK-47 and a briefcase every day. She also testified about Cooper appearing at an earlier trial in Harris County in a wheelchair. In that case, Cooper was charged with felony tampering with a government document. Krystal Weber Finch met Cooper on a dating website in 2004 and married him in Las Vegas a few months later. He used the name Eric Tyler Lee with her and stole money from her parent's bank account after he worked on their computer. He used the money to pay some of her bills — also casting suspicion on her — another common trait among Cooper victims. They are often implicated when money goes missing from their relatives. Later, he said he needed her parents to transfer the title to the car they had been letting her drive so he could get insurance on it. Then he forged her father's name and her name on the title. In 2001, during his relationship with April Jarbo, Cooper forged April's grandmother's name on a $10,000 check and deposited into their joint account. But he misspelled the grandmother's name, so April was quickly cleared. After she was married to him for three months and while the check fraud case was under investigation, she began checking marriage records and learned that Eric had never divorced he previous wife, Paula Herrin. While Eric claims he has four children, April said her investigation showed Eric had seven children, including the daughter he has with his current wife Wendy. Martin also called former Polk County Sheriff's Deputy Shaun Dunn to testify. Dunn spotted Cooper in Livingston Wal- Mart on Feb. 22, 2002 while he was offduty. Cooper attracted his attention because of his unusual behavior. Dunn said he was wearing a Naval dress uniform top, but fatigue or BDU style pants, like bailiff Tracy Galloway wears — a mismatched uniform choice that military personnel would not make. Cooper also had a duty belt that included some high gloss items, some leather, and some polyester. Dunn could also see he had an automatic pistol between his belt and pants, but the magazine holster did not match the weapon. "He had a badge that caught my attention. then on the left side he had a big holster and I didn't know what was in it. T\hen he had old handcuff holster that looked like the dog had chewed it," Dunn said. After following Cooper for about five minutes, Dunn sent his wife to call for uniformed officers from the sheriff's office or Livingston Police Department. Dunn did not have his badge or weapon since he had been out with his wife celebrating their anniversary. When Dunn approached Cooper and verbally identified himself, Cooper said he was a Navy Seal and his name was Robert Kinder. He further said he was in town doing surveillance for the Defense Department. When asked for credentials, Cooper said he left them at home. Dunn asked Cooper to step to the front of the store and Cooper complied. Cooper asked to go to the restroom and Dunn said he would have to surrender the weapon, and Cooper did. "That's when I knew he wasn't who he said he was. I hadn't showed him any ID. As a law enforcement officer, there is no way I'm going to hand over my gun to anybody unless they fight me for it," Dunn said. Subsequently, Dunn found Coopers Texas driver's license and an outstanding warrant for bigamy. He was arrested and taken to the Polk County Jail. When they arrived Cooper was almost attacked by another inmate for attempting to seduce his wife at a bar, Dunn recalled. "I had to take down the inmate and put him back on the bench." Martin later called the real Robert Kinder to testify. Kinder said he met Cooper when he insisted that Kinder was his father. He even swabbed Kinder's mouth with a cotton swab and said he was going to have a DNA test performed. Later he said the test had come back positive. Kinder said he did know Cooper's mother, and had "been with her," and that his brother had dated Cooper's mother as well. After Cooper's visits, Kinder noticed a check book and a 30-0-6 deer rifle were gone from his home. "He wrote $3,600 in checks on me," Kinder said. Kortney Miller, a 15-yearold cousin of Eric's wife Wendi Cooper testified that acted inappropriately toward her on several occasions. For a short time the couple lived with Kortney and her mother because they had a fire in their house. Kortney was cooking breakfast and Cooper came in the kitchen and "rubbed his stuff against me," Kortney said. "I asked him to back away and he didn't. He cornered me. I told him to stop and then Wendi came around the and came in the kitchen." When Cooper's wife asked him what was going on, he said he was seeing what Wendi was cooking. Korney also said Cooper had asked her to text him nude pictures of her and she refused. He also said she was beautiful and if he wasn't with Wendi he would be with her. An indigency hearing was held after the trial concluded and Tom Brown was appointed to represent Cooper on appeal.