Sunday, September 28, 2008

Gateway double-murder case set for trial, accused faces death penalty


Originally published 07:04 p.m., September 27, 2008
Updated 08:02 p.m., September 27, 2008

BONITA SPRINGS — It was Christmas, and Michelle Andrews was trying to salvage her marriage. Her husband, Steven, was thinking about leaving, and she knew it.

At the same time, a woman named Kellie Ballew was anxiously waiting for that marriage to end. Thinking it would, believing Michelle Andrews’ husband would choose her instead, Ballew already had tried to break off a six-year relationship of her own.

She had asked her boyfriend, a motorcycle mechanic named Fred Cooper, to move by the end of the year from the Bonita Springs townhouse they shared. She had asked him to respect any new relationships she might form.

Then came a 911 call the morning of Dec. 27, 2005, and the discovery of a toddler, Lucasz Andrews, alone in a home in Gateway in south Lee County with the bodies of his parents.

Steven Andrews, 28, had been shot in the head.

Michelle Andrews, 28, had been beaten and suffocated.

Cooper, now 30, quickly became a suspect in the Gateway murders: He was the jilted, jealous lover.

In an early criminal investigation report, a motive — Ballew’s infidelity — was put simply: “He loved her and she cheated on him.”

Now, nearly three years later, Cooper is about to go to trial on charges that could lead to the death penalty. He faces two counts of first-degree murder and one count of armed burglary.

In the 33 months since the Andrewses died, the case — with its story of lives and loves tangling and ending, and the little boy left behind — has received news coverage from Duluth, Minn., to Miami.

“This case certainly does have a lot of public attention,” said Samantha Syoen, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office, describing how the upcoming trial has brought a new stream of inquiries to her office from different parts of the country.

The interest has been extensive enough that Cooper’s defense has tried many times — though without success — to get the trial moved out of Lee County, citing concerns about whether Cooper could receive a fair trial here.

His defense has sent a judge boxes stuffed with printouts of news stories and blog posts on the case as well as signed statements from Lee County residents agreeing that publicity in the case had been pervasive.

But Lee Circuit Judge Thomas Reese has rejected multiple requests for a change in venue, and jury selection is scheduled to begin Wednesday morning at the Lee County Justice Center.

Cooper’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ken Garber, couldn’t be reached for comment, and Syoen said prosecutors declined to talk about the specifics of the case.


The 911 call — initially one of the more remarkable aspects of the case — came at 7:03 a.m., two days after Christmas 2005.

Records of the call show the first few minutes of silence made it appear that no one was on the line, then Carol Follmer, who took the call, started to hear a “baby” in the background. At 7:08 a.m., the transcript shows she heard a “young child saying mama over and over.”

Deputy Tracie Gaydash already had been dispatched to check things out. She arrived about 7:10 a.m. and found 2-year-old Lucasz at the door.

He was wearing a pair of bloodstained white socks.

Gaydash took the phone and said, “I don’t see anybody here though. I’m ... I’m sure maybe the parents are upstairs sleeping?”

It isn’t clear that Lucasz placed the 911 call on his own, as the Sheriff’s Office first reported. But at that point, the boy led Gaydash upstairs to his parents’ bedroom.

Gaydash saw “nude legs,” then backed away downstairs, holding Lucasz’s hand, and led him outside before the major crimes unit, forensics unit, paramedics and medical examiner arrived.

The Andrewses had been living at 12221 Eagle Pointe Court in Gateway, a community in unincorporated Lee County, for just over a year.

Their home was a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a lanai, pool and garage. Inside, it was brightly painted and full of evidence that it was Christmastime.

Crime scene photos show a tall tree by a window and a small teddy bear wearing a Christmas tree sweater set out at the foot of the staircase.

Three stockings hung underneath a picture of a beach scene, and the largest red stocking, the one hung in the center, was for Lukasz.

Throughout the home, there were signs of things the couple loved — the miniature surfboards, the guitars, a big, unfinished bowl of popcorn — one Steven Andrews had made before going to bed the night he died. An obituary later noted it was a favorite snack.

There also were hints inside the home of the emotional turmoil facing the couple.

A sticky note inside a phone book was placed on a page listing marriage counselors, and a pink note card on top of a phone book read, “Steven, I love you with all my heart. Michelle Lynn.”

Upstairs, inside the master bedroom, the couple kept a wedding photo on the dresser and a copy of the inspirational Joel Osteen book, “Your Best Life Now.”

Crime scene photos show bloodstains throughout the bedroom, and a medical examiner’s report released this summer describes signs of a struggle on Michelle’s side of the couple’s bed, with indications of “fingers grabbing the sheets and being dragged.”

Her body was found on the other side of the room, placed in what the medical examiner’s report described as “an erotic pose” with her nightgown pulled up. Her hair was bloodied but her body had been cleaned up. Her face was bruised.

Steven Andrews’ body had been pulled off the bed and was found face down on the carpet. There were bloody handprints on the turquoise blue wall nearby.

An autopsy showed that he died of a gunshot wound to the head. He had likely been sleeping, and investigators found a bullet under one pillow.

Michelle Andrews died of blunt force trauma and asphyxiation.


Investigators’ interviews with family members, neighbors, co-workers and others connected to the Andrewses shed some light on what their lives were like leading up to their deaths.

The holidays weren’t calm ones emotionally for the Andrewses. Steven’s parents, who were visiting from Minnesota, weren’t on the best of terms with Michelle.

And Michelle recently had revealed a secret to her own parents.

She had revised her story of how she had become pregnant three years before when the couple was living in Minnesota and Steven was working on a master’s degree.

She told her husband and her family at the time that she had an affair and that it was a mistake. She had an abortion.

This Christmas, though, she was saying the real story was that she had been raped by a co-worker, but that she had been too afraid to explain it before.

She finally told her husband on Christmas Day.

By that point, she had confided in her parents and her in-laws that she thought Steven was having an affair. She knew the woman’s first name, and she had told her father about what she considered an inappropriate Christmas gift the woman had given to her husband at a company Christmas party -- a keychain that matched his car that was worth too much money.

She was trying her best to be perfect for her husband over the holidays, trying to take advice about being a “good wife” and cooking for him.

She even talked to her mother-in-law about her fears during a walk on the beach.

Her mother-in-law, Barbara Andrews, asked Steven about it; he denied it.

But at the same time, Steven also was talking about his unhappiness with the marriage and seeking advice.

On Christmas Eve, he had gone canoeing with his wife’s father, Dan Korkora.

They stopped at a bend in the Estero River and Steven Andrews explained that he had feelings for another woman, though he said he hadn’t acted on them.

Kokora said he didn’t pry.

“He did not give the idea that there was an affair going on,” he said.

Kokora knew who Ballew was and described her as “very sharp, very smart” and an “open, touchy-feely kind of girl ... When I met her, I instantly felt if you want to make Michelle jealous, just show her this girl.”

Kokora told detectives about his daughter’s worries: “She was afraid that Steve was gonna leave her because he said, ‘I don’t know if I love you anymore,’ to her, and she said, ‘I — I think I feel him slipping away.’ ”

E-mails between Steven Andrews and Ballew — who used Cooper’s last name in her e-mail address — show they were imagining a life together at that point.

A little more than a week before Christmas, Stevens wrote to Ballew: “When I am an old man, I want to know that I was true to myself and shared life with someone who wants to be with me as much as I want to be with them.”

The two had met in the summer of 2005. They confided about troubles in their relationships. They talked about their children, about being parents. Ballew later said Steven Andrews had told her that he might ask for a divorce after the holidays, and they met for sex at their office the night of the murders.

Before the Andrewses’ deaths were ruled homicides, some who knew of the stresses on the marriage suggested to investigators that either Steven or Michelle had simply snapped.

Steven Andrews’ mother, Barbara Andrews, suggested it might have been her own son who lost it.

And Ballew told a detective that “just from things that Steve has said to me about how Michelle can be and things and how she’s acted the last couple weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised if she stepped over the deep end.”


According to one of Ballew’s friends, though, her first thoughts when hearing about the murders seemed to be focused on Cooper.

Claudia Gerardo was with Ballew when they learned about the murders, and later described her friend’s reactions to detectives, how she immediately called Cooper to ask him where he was.

“We talked about the possibility of um — of, um, Fred being involved ... We talked about her fears, basically, if that were the case,” Gerardo said.

It was the day the Andrewses’ bodies were found, and Cooper had called Ballew while sitting on their couch watching TV and opening Christmas gifts from her mother. He told her that he thought she “might need to come home because he had some bad news that he had seen about Steve and Michelle.”

Ballew was hysterical, Gerardo said, and at one point said of Cooper: “I hope he didn’t, but if he did, I hope they fry his (expletive).”

At that point, they drove together to the Lee Sheriff’s Office.

Ballew, now 29, told detectives that Cooper had been in the dark about her relationship with Steven Andrews. She said Michelle hadn’t known, either — until about a week before Christmas, when Michelle called her “going off in a fit.”

As for Cooper, she repeatedly said he wasn’t the jealous type.

At the same time, she said he had asked her who was texting her at 11 p.m. one night after she had asked to split up.

“Steve had just texted me to ask me to check my e-mail. So I got up to check my e-mail and Fred got up and started yelling and saying, ‘Who the (expletive) is that?’ and ‘Who is calling you?’” Ballew said.

She had seen Cooper with a gun recently, “when everything really, really went down” with their relationship.

“I was afraid of what he might do,” she said.

Asked to explain, she said she was worried he might hurt himself, and she threatened to call the police. “And he just kept apologizing. He said he couldn’t live without me.”

The next day, Cooper told her he had thrown the gun in a river. Ballew said she looked for it and didn’t find it.

Ballew said Cooper’s earlier troubles with the law — what she described as “stealing and just doing teenage stuff” — came because he didn’t have a father, and his mother wasn’t home.

Teenage “rebellious stuff” for Cooper led to some time in prison. He had been arrested several times in the 1990s in Martin County for burglary and criminal mischief. He was sentenced as a youthful offender, and Ballew said she started dating him right after he got out on work release in August 1999.

Ballew said the tattoo on his shoulder, COOP, was his prison nickname.

They had lived together on the east coast of the state before moving to Lee County.

By late 2005, Cooper and Ballew were living with their daughter and Cooper’s mother at 28263 Jeneva Way, Bonita Springs.


Cooper’s co-workers told detectives they’d heard Cooper say that his girlfriend wanted to break things off and had cleaned out their bank accounts, and that he had seemed less focused on his work.

In a request for a search warrant for Cooper’s home, detective Walter Ryan describes how Cooper was “visibly nervous” during interviews in late December 2005.

Cooper declined to take a polygraph and denied any involvement.

His arrest came Jan. 11, after law enforcement cited a DNA test that had tied him to the crime scene.

Cooper had voluntarily provided a DNA sample for testing during earlier questioning, and testing of a swab from Michelle Andrews’ right-hand fingernails showed a mixture of DNA that could have included Cooper’s.

According to the report: “Steven Andrews, Fred Dewitt Cooper or any of their paternally related relatives cannot be excluded as contributors to this mixture.”

But Cooper was excluded from DNA mixtures found elsewhere: from under Michelle’s right-hand fingernails and from her left hand.

Testing of a camouflage jacket of Cooper’s also didn’t turn up any blood, though a co-worker of Cooper’s at Sun Sports Cycle and Watercraft off Metro Parkway in Fort Myers had watched Cooper scrub the jacket with a shop rag for about an hour, cutting out some of the mesh lining with a razor blade.

Investigators also found surveillance video from a gas station near Gateway — which shows a man on a motorcycle — but testing determined that the video’s resolution was “poor for identification.”

There also are records from the security gates outside Cooper’s Bonita Springs home that show his motorcycle made it back inside the Village Walk community gates by about 3 a.m. on Dec. 27.

It’s not clear if he left again, and Cooper’s mother, Denise Cooper, told detectives that she had asked her son if he had anything to do with it. He told her he didn’t. She said he left home for work about 10 minutes to seven — about the same time some of the Andrewses’ neighbors said was when they saw a man with a camouflage jacket walking by.

Other neighbors described seeing someone with a camouflage jacket in the Gateway area late on the evening of the 26th, and the Andrewses’ next-door neighbor told a detective he heard a motorcycle start up about midnight.

Cooper owned a black and yellow 2004 Suzuki SV 650.

Then there is the account of Jimmy Lynn Craven, who told a detective that Cooper — or someone who looked like him and who was riding a motorcycle — came to her office at the Gateway sales center two days before Christmas. The man had asked her for the gate code to the community where the Andrewses lived.

When detectives later showed her a photo lineup, Craven identified Cooper, if somewhat tentatively.

As for the statements Cooper made to detectives when he came in for questioning — ones his defense attorney claimed were obtained by deception — a judge declined to throw those statements out.

© Naples News

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