Saturday, October 18, 2008

Gateway double-killing suspect will be retried

BY PAT GILLESPIE
pgillespie@news-press.com

Fred Cooper will be back in court Tuesday as prosecutors prepare to retry him on charges of murdering a Gateway couple in December 2005 after a jury came back deadlocked late Friday.

Cooper, 30, is charged with shooting to death Steven Andrews and strangling Michelle Andrews in their Gateway home Dec. 27, 2005. Jurors spent six days listening to testimony and viewing evidence and deliberated for most of four days — 321⁄2 hours, to be exact — but declared they couldn’t come to a unanimous verdict around 9 p.m.

The judge didn’t ask each juror which verdict he or she favored before he dismissed the panel.

As Lee Circuit Judge Thomas Reese declared a mistrial, Cooper had no reaction. His sister, Angela Cox, wept as she sat beside family members with her head in her hands. Just five feet away, the mother of Steven Andrews, Barbara Andrews, sat quietly as family members stood around her, seemingly in disbelief. Michelle Andrews’ parents — Daniel and Linda Kokora — weren’t in the courtroom when the mistrial was declared.

“We are extremely disappointed; the Andrewses and the Kokoras are extremely disappointed,” assistant state attorney Anthony Kunasek told a horde of reporters.

“We are going to start preparing the case and getting ready for another trial.”

Jurors offered no comment as they were escorted out of the courthouse and onto a bus back to their cars. Some covered their faces to avoid cameras; others didn’t acknowledge reporters’ questions.

They had labored longer than any Lee County jury in recent history.

No family members of Cooper or the Andrewses wanted to comment.

Assistant deputy public defender Beatriz Taquechel had no explanation for what hung up the jury.

“I have no idea,” she said. “It’s really hard on everyone.”

In Gateway, former neighbors of Steven and Michelle Andrews were distraught when they heard about the mistrial.

“I’m in shock,” neighbor Sarah Smiarowski said. “The jury was persuaded by lies and not facts. The only thing Michelle wanted was to save her marriage and her family.”

Neighbors Brad and Jennifer Buffington also were upset.

“Some of the stories that were told in court ... concerning his relationship with Michelle is unbelievable,” Brad Buffington said. “We’re not the only ones who are going to be shocked when they hear the news.”

If this case follows the pattern of previous mistrials, Cooper will be retried within 90 days and he will remain in custody at the Lee County Jail until his second trial.

The trial

The state made its case in chronological order, beginning with the deputy who arrived at the Gateway house around 7 a.m. Dec. 27, 2005. Sheriff’s dispatchers received a call with no one on the other line. Deputy Tracie Gaydash saw 2-year-old Lukasz Andrews and he guided her upstairs. There, she discovered the bodies of Steven and Michelle Andrews.

Detectives swarmed the house and crime scene investigators poured through the inside, looking for DNA, fingerprints and clues.

Medical Examiner Rebecca Hamilton determined Steven Andrews was shot to death, while Michelle Andrews was strangled.

That afternoon, Cooper called his girlfriend, Kellie Ballew, to tell her the Andrewses had been killed. He said he’d seen a report on television. She called sheriff’s detectives and gave them a statement.

That led them to Cooper, whom detectives believe knew of an affair between Ballew and Steven Andrews and, in a jealous rage, drove his motorcycle to Gateway and slaughtered the couple in their home. Prosecutors tried to show Cooper went back to the house around 7 a.m. and called 911.

After he was arrested Jan. 11, 2006, he confessed to having a sexual affair with Michelle Andrews, which explained why his DNA was found on her, detectives said at the time.

The defense presented four witnesses, but its case hinged on Cooper, who took the stand Monday.

During testimony, Cooper admitted he knew Ballew and Andrews were having an affair, but he denied harming the couple.

“I did not kill Steven and Michelle,” Cooper declared.

That contradicted his statements Dec. 27 and Dec. 29, 2005, when he told investigators he had no idea Ballew and Steven Andrews were having an affair and he had never been to Gateway. Prosecutors pointed out at least a dozen lies they said Cooper made between the statements and his testimony.

Cooper said he lied to detectives because he never thought he’d be a suspect and that he didn’t want to lose his daughter, then 5.

He also testified he didn’t tell detectives of his sexual encounter with Michelle Andrews before his arrest because he didn’t want Ballew to find out.

Prosecutors presented DNA evidence that indicated Cooper could have been in contact with Michelle Andrews’ nightgown. A DNA analyst said she didn’t know what type of stain was on the nightgown.

In his closing argument, Chief Assistant State Attorney Randy McGruther said Cooper’s testimony was an extravagant story made up while Cooper was sitting in the Lee County Jail for the last 32 months.

“The only person who could say, ‘That didn’t happen; we were not together,’ is dead,” McGruther told jurors. “Just like she was unable to defend herself on Dec. 26, 2005, in her bedroom, she was unable to defend herself on Oct. 14, 2008, in this courtroom.”

But Deputy Public Defender Ken Garber offered a different perspective on the state’s evidence. He said the crime scene — where Steven Andrews was shot in the cheek and Michelle Andrews was dragged off their bed, beaten and strangled — supports the theory Michelle Andrews was the target instead of her husband.

“She could be the target of this crime, not Steven,” he told them. “I think when you look at this case, coolly, calmly, reviewing all the evidence, setting aside sympathy, setting aside false assumptions, there’s only one fair and just verdict in this case — and that is to find Fred Cooper not guilty.”

The jury was not convinced.

— Staff writers Sam Cook and Francesca Donlan contributed to this report.

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