Cooper’s girlfriend expected to take witness stand
Kellie Ballew lived with Fred Cooper for years, had a child with him and, prosecutors allege, inspired the jealousy that brought him to kill a young Lee County couple.
Cooper’s longtime girlfriend, Ballew, 29, is scheduled to testify today about her 6 1/2-year relationship with Cooper and her subsequent affair with Steven Andrews, who was found slain in December 2005 with his wife, Michelle, in the bedroom of their Gateway home.
Her testimony should provide the first window into the life and demeanor of Cooper, who, to this point, is known to jurors only through his silent presence at the defense table.
Several neighbors of the Andrewses are also expected to testify today about a suspicious man they saw in the area around the time of the killings.
Cooper, 30, is on trial for two counts of first-degree murder and one count of armed burglary in the couple’s deaths. His first trial, in October, ended when a Lee County jury failed to return a verdict.
His second trial is being held in St. Petersburg to escape heavy media coverage.
If convicted, Cooper could face the death penalty.
Cooper’s name has rarely been mentioned in a day and a half of testimony. Prosecutors have instead worked to establish the scene of the Andrewses’ deaths.
Chief medical examiner Rebecca Hamilton told jurors the Andrewses were likely killed between 11 and 11:30 p.m. Dec. 26, 2005, about eight hours before their bodies were discovered.
Steven died of a gunshot wound to the head. Michelle was severely beaten before dying of traumatic asphyxiation, Hamilton said. She was either choked or strangled to death.
Asked whether a suicide-murder may have taken place, Hamilton said it did not appear that way.
“We have a woman who obviously did not kill herself,” she said. “We have a man with a medium range gunshot wound, not a contact wound. We have no weapon.”
Cooper’s lead attorney, Ken Garber, challenged Hamilton’s analysis of Michelle’s body position she was when found.
Hamilton said she believed the position — legs spread, arms extended — occurred when someone yanked on Michelle’s shoulder, dislocating it but turning the body over.
Garber asked if the body was posed, which would suggest Michelle was the target of the killings.
“Can I say with 100 percent certainty, Mr. Garber, that the body was not posed? No,” Hamilton said.
Photographs and details appeared to disturb some in the jury box. When Hamilton showed a picture of Michelle’s battered face — her lips cut and bruised, her forehead with lacerations reaching as deep as her skull — one juror put her hand over her mouth. Another removed her glasses to wipe her eyes.
Earlier in the day, a brief recess was called when one of the jurors told a bailiff she felt faint. At the time, jurors were listening to testimony about the position in which Michelle’s body was found.
The parents of Steven and Michelle left the courtroom before Hamilton’s testimony.
If Cooper was not mentioned by name, his testimony in his first trial was inescapable.
Cooper told Lee County jurors in October that he and Michelle had consensual sex in the backseat of the Andrewses’ Toyota 4-Runner, which was parked in the driveway the night before the couple’s death. The two had grown close consoling each other about their spouses’ affair, and Michelle called him that night.
On Monday, Lee County crime scene manager Harry Balke testified that no bodily fluids were found inside the vehicle. No tissues, napkins or paper towels were found either.
Beatriz Taquechel, one of Cooper’s attorneys, noted that the interior of the 4-Runner was never dusted for fingerprints.
Balke said he was not instructed to dust.
Prosecutor Anthony Kunasek asked Lee County crime scene technician Gabriele Suboch whether the two phones she examined — a cell phone from a purse in the bedroom and a cordless phone from the home — ever recorded calls to or from Sun Sports Cycle and Watersports in Fort Myers or a number with the area code 407.
Cooper worked at Sun Sports. His cell phone began with 407.
Suboch said neither showed up on the phone logs. Yet, Suboch acknowledged that the cordless phone only recorded incoming calls.
Jurors in Cooper’s current trial have been told he had a mistrial but nothing more.
On Monday, they heard from Balke and Suboch that no blood evidence was found on the home’s first floor, and no fingerprints from the scene matched Cooper’s.
Brett Harding, an investigator with the medical examiner’s office in Fort Myers, testified about the process of moving bodies away from a crime scene.
Lee County Detective Robert Walker identified Cooper’s camouflage jacket, motorcycle helmet, gloves and a picture of his motorcycle. He said no blood was found on the jacket, but it smelled like a chemical solvent.
“It felt as though it had an oily residue on the jacket shell,” he told jurors.
In 2005, Cooper’s boss at Sun Sports told investigators that he saw Cooper cleaning the jacket and removing its inner mesh shortly after detectives requested it.
When Ballew takes the stand, she will likely repeat much of her testimony from Cooper’s first trial, in which she described a long relationship with Cooper that ended in December 2005, after she and Steven began a relationship. She said Cooper did not know about the affair, but he did not take the breakup well, threatening at one point to kill himself.
Ballew also testified that Cooper was not home on the night of the killings.
Cooper’s attorneys will likely point out that detectives had Ballew trick Cooper into coming to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office by telling him she needed an alibi.
Court resumes at 9 a.m.
Steven Beardsley is a staff writer for the Naples Daily News. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.