April 15, 2011 at 12:21 PM ET
Haven't "CSI" and "Law & Order" (not to mention all their spin-offs) been around long enough for would-be criminals to realize that if they're going to commit a crime — especially murder — they can't leave a trail on their computers?
While investigating the murder of Nancy Cooper, who never came back from a routine evening jog in 2008, police in North Carolina working with the FBI's Cyber Task Force found damning evidence on her husband Brad's ThinkPad laptop: Google Maps in his browsing history with locations that aligned with where his wife's body was found, copies of his wife's emails that would give him motive to kill her (she had plans to take their children back to Canada), emails that showed he was having an affair and emails between the estranged couple that revealed a relationship falling apart.
Cooper, 37, is currently on trial for the murder of his children's 34-year-old mother in their home in July 2008. Authorities said afterward, he dumped the strangled woman's body in a then-undeveloped subdivision only three miles away from their home.
The police detective assigned to the case testified this week that in the days before his wife disappeared, Cooper's laptop showed a browsing history of several "zoomed-in satellite images" using Google Maps that point to the area where Nancy Cooper's body was eventually found. (See the route I created above also using Google Maps satellite images, from the Coopers' house to Fielding Drive, where she was discovered.)
Though prosecutors have presented soil samples taken from Brad Cooper's shoes and compared them to soil from around the crime scene, the Google image was the first — and perhaps the strongest — link to the remote spot nearly three miles from their home.
Chris Chappell, a Durham investigator who works with the FBI cybercrimes task force, testified that his analysis of the laptop showed that the Google image appeared to have been viewed at 1:15 p.m. on July 11, 2008, the day before Nancy Cooper was reported missing.
There were magnifications of two areas, Chappell testified Thursday, "including the area where Nancy Cooper's body was found."
Police said that someone using his computer searched for the 27518 zip code, which happens to not only be the Coopers' own zip, but also includes the spot where Cooper's wife's body was discovered, three months after she was last seen.
In most recent counter-attack by Cooper's defense team, they raised questions about the time stamps on Cooper's laptop, saying that "72 percent of the time stamps on the 3,627 files bearing information from July 9 through July 12 were marked as invalid." The defense has steadfastly claimed their client is innocent, the victim of chain of evidence tampering and sloppy police work.
The defense also points out that there didn't seem to be any evidence that Cooper, a Cisco employee, ever searched for the street his wife was found on. They tried to argue that it didn't make sense that someone with such tech savvy would "intentionally delete cookies related to the search, but leave the satellite image."
Read more of the News & Observer's comprehensive coverage of the case and trial here.
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