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07/01/2021

Guilty Plea

COOPER, JIMMY DALE.jpg.crdownload

Jimmy Cooper

Article contributed by The Journal Record

25th Judicial Circuit Court

Double Springs - Jimmy Dale Cooper has pleaded guilty to the murder of Donnie Miller and Linda Cole and has been sentenced to life in prison without the opportunity of parole.


The development abruptly closes the five-year-old case that only lasted three hours in its jury setting,  held at the Winston County Courthouse in Double Springs.


In accordance with the plea deal, Cooper, 61, of Hamilton, confessed to two charges of capital murder on Monday morning, May 24, as well as to first-degree kidnapping.


On Feb. 10, 2016, Cooper entered the law office of Scott Hunt in downtown Hamilton where he held the attorney at gunpoint and demanded that he call Miller to meet, who he had reportedly had a  business relationship with.


After 40 minutes of waiting, Miller, 67, entered the office and Cooper shot him in the back multiple times.


Cooper exited the office and headed south the Lawler & Cole accounting office, where he was a client, according to reports.


Cooper shot Cole, 61, at least twice in the back and left the office where he was confronted by a Hamilton Police Officer, two Marion County Sheriff's Deputies and a private citizen. Cooper was injured during the ensuing shootout and taken into custody.


The defendant had previously pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.


Prosecutors were prepared to pursue the death penalty.


Jury trial


The 25th Judicial Circuit Court began trial proceedings on Monday, May 17, with jury selection lasting the entire week.


Sixteen jurors were empaneled on Friday, May 21, consisting of 12 members and four alternates. This included 13 women and three men of Winston County. The trial venue was transferred to Double Springs by request of Cooper's attorneys. Both Courts are served by the 25th Judicial Circuit.


Jury trial was set to begin with opening statements at 9 a.m. on May 24; however, proceedings were slow to begin due to a side bar meeting.


At approximately 10:10 a.m., Circuit Judge Lee called the court to order in the Winston courthouse's old courtroom. He informed those in attendance that a jury member had reported they were sick, Carter said the sickness was not serious.


Air conditioning had also become a concern as units for the old courtroom were not functioning and temperatures were expected to increase to the 90s. Carter said witnesses in holding rooms were already uncomfortable.


Lastly, Carter said that "issues" had arisen with Cooper's trial itself, though, he said he was confident that they could be resolved. He ordered a recess until 1 p.m.


The Journal Record was alerted only a half-hour later (11 a.m.) that the Court would be returning to session for a hearing.


Carter announced that the defense had declared its intentions to enter into a guilty plea and to accept a life sentence without parole.


The defendant was represented by Jack Stanton Glasscox of Tuscaloosa, Brian White of Decatur and lead counsel Jim Standridge of Tuscaloosa.


The judge questioned Cooper directly if he understood the plea deal he was entering and if he believed his defense team properly represented him.


Cooper affirmed both questions.


The judge also noted that the guilty plea would forfeit Cooper's Constitutional rights as well as the right to have his case judged by an unanimous jury beyond reasonable doubt and the right for his case to be reviewed should he have been sentenced to death.


"Yes," Cooper responded from his seat, dressed in a blue blazer.


"Mr. Cooper, you understand that you will spend the remainder of your life in prison?" Carter asked.


"Yes."


The judge asked lead counsel Standridge if defense attorneys believed Cooper to be competent enough to enter the plea deal. Standridge said they did.


One major delay in getting Cooper's trial on a docket was due to a lengthy waint on the Alabama Department of Mental Health to conduct an assesment on Cooper.


Carter told Cooper that his two capital murder charges carried an aggravating factor.
"Do you agree that an aggravator was present?" Carter asked.


"Yes," Cooper answered.


"How do you plea to the two charges of capital murder, Mr. Cooper?" Carter continued.
"Guilty," Cooper said.


The defendant also pleaded guilty to the first-degree kidnapping of Hunt.


The prosecution team for the 25th Judicial Circuit Court District Attorney's office included Chief Deputy District Attorney Rachel Smith and Assistant District Attorney CeJe Hearn.


Prosecutors were asked to read out loud the facts of the case. Cooper and his defense agreed that the facts were accurate.


Carter then sentenced Cooper to life in prison in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections. He also ordered that he pay restitution of court fees to the families of his victims of roughly $35,000.


Cooper was further ordered to not have contact with the families of his victims.


Victims' families approve of plea

The family of Linda Cole--including Donald Cole, April Cagle and Summer Todd--thanked District Attorney, Scott Slatton and his prosecutors for how they handled their case.


"The road to this day has been long, hard and stressful, but God has carried us through every obstacle," the family said in a statement issued to the newspaper.


"Life without the possibility of parole versus the death penalty basically means the same thing in the state of Alabama. Many prison inmates on death row have been there 30-plus years. We needed some sense of closure and peace in our lives and I truly believe my mom (Linda Cole) would be very proud of our decision."


The family stated that once the news of Cooper's conviction was shared they experienced an overwhelming peace and relief along with tears.


In a statement on social media, Slatton praised the results of the case. He said that the case underwent several hurdles, including mental health  evaluations, changes in defense counsel and pandemic concerns pushed the  trial back to this past week. 


During the impromptu recess on May 24, Slatton said prosecutors and defense met regarding a plea.


After consulting with the victim and victims' families, Slatton said both parties reached an agreement that averted the trial.


Slatton told the Journal Record that 30 witnesses had been summoned and 13 more were on standby for the trial.


Though brief, the Cooper trial marks the first jury trial conducted by the 25th Judicial Circuit Court since the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in widespread health restrictions.


According to Judge Daryl Burt, three other dockets have been considered since July 2020; however, each of those jury settings have fallen through, whether due to cases being settled before they are tried or defendants not showing up for their trial date.


The Cooper trial was set to be conducted with social distancing guidelines, limiting seating capacity in the Winston County courtroom. The jury was set to be seated in the gallery with six feet spaces between them.


Livestreams of the trial were  available in Double Springs as well as a viewing area at the Marion County Courthouse in Hamilton.


At peak, roughly 30 individuals were observing the trial in Hamilton.

 
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