Quick decision: Jurors agreed on Cooper verdict from start

— Jurors in Fred Cooper’s double homicide trial agreed from the beginning of deliberations he was likely guilty, one of them said Thursday.

“There was nobody thinking that he wasn’t guilty,” said Ingrid Monroy-Akin of Palm Harbor.

The group needed six hours to be sure. Once an initial vote showed everyone was on the same page, they decided to pore over the evidence to be sure, she said. They scrutinized DNA evidence to “clarify any doubts,” she said. They looked over the timeline of the crime, as well as surveillance video photos. They discussed eyewitness statements.

“We understood where we were, but we wanted to confirm that,” Monroy-Akin said of the request.

Halfway through the deliberations, they asked to hear recordings of Cooper’s own statements to detectives early in the investigation, and came into the courtroom to do it. It helped reassure the group.

“It just didn’t seem like there was anything to suggest innocence,” Monroy-Akin explained.

Throughout it all, factions never formed, she said. No one thought he was innocent, and no one took sides. Everyone was “very amicable and friendly,” she said.

That’s a stark contrast from deliberations during Cooper’s first trial, in Lee County. Jurors described the deliberations as tense, if not hostile. After 32 hours, the group failed to return a verdict.

Monroy-Akin said she thought six hours was a long time.

The penalty phase was simple, as well, she said. Everyone wrote their recommendation — life in prison or death — on a piece of paper and put it in a hat. Someone read the result — life in prison — at the end. Monroy-Akin wouldn’t reveal the split.

She said she’s glad it’s over. The seriousness of the trial troubled everyone and lead to a few sleepless nights for some, including Monroy-Akin. The pictures, she said, were disturbing.

“I’ve been very emotional, personally,” she said. “I think a lot of us had. It’s a big decision. It’s a big responsibility, too.”

On Thursday, another side of the trial spoke about its experience when prosecutors took questions from reporters.

Anthony Kunasek and Randy McGruther of the State Attorney’s Office described their feelings going into the second trial following an October mistrial.

“Its always very difficult to get emotionally up, so to speak, the second time around,” Kunasek said. “We certainly poured ourselves into that first case, and it was difficult to do that (again). I feel that we did do that, and as the case went on, we certainly demonstrated our high level of, I guess, energy.”

McGruther drew few distinctions between the two trials.

“We presented, basically, the same case we did last time,” he said. “We changed the order of some things, we emphasized some things that were not emphasized last time. Basically, we had most of the jurors last time felt like he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Fortunately, all the jurors felt that way this time.”

When the verdict came, “It was like a million pounds lifted off our shoulders,” Kunasek said.

Before she left the courthouse, Barbara Andrews, Steven Andrews’ mother, embraced him.

“Thank you so much for bringing peace to our hearts,” she said.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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