Gateway neighbors testify to seeing man like Cooper
A spurned lover riding his motorcycle late in the night. A stranger slipping past a gate into a quiet community.
Prosecutors say the two were the same man — Fred Cooper, a 30-year-old former Bonita Springs motorcycle mechanic charged with killing a young Lee County couple in their bedroom more than three years ago.
On Tuesday, jurors in Cooper’s murder trial heard from the woman whom prosecutors say inspired Cooper’s jealousy. They also listened to eyewitnesses describe seeing a man like Cooper in their Gateway neighborhood on the night before the bodies were found.
Kellie Lynn Ballew, 29, told jurors that her boyfriend was distraught, if not devastated, when she ended their relationship in December 2005. She and Cooper had been together for 6 1/2 years and had a daughter together.
He wrote personal notes for her and left them around the Bonita Springs home they shared. He threatened to kill himself at one point, grabbing a gun and ammunition from a closet and running to the basement. She talked him out of it.
Ballew hid her new relationship with Steven Andrews, 28, a married coworker, from Cooper. On the night of Dec. 26, 2005, when she left home to meet Steven at their office and have sex with him, she told Cooper she was meeting a friend.
“I didn’t feel as if he was stable enough mentally and emotionally to know I was meeting Steve,” she said.
The bodies of Steven and his wife, Michelle, 28, were discovered in their Gateway bedroom the next morning. Steven died of a gunshot wound to the head. Michelle was badly beaten and asphyxiated to death.
Cooper, if convicted of the killings, could face the death penalty. His first trial, in October, ended when a Lee County jury failed to reach a verdict. The case was moved to St. Petersburg to escape heavy media coverage.
Shortly after Ballew returned from meeting Steven that night, Cooper left on his motorcycle, she testified. When she reached him by phone between 11 and 11:15 p.m., he told her he needed to “clear his head.” She did not think he knew about the affair, and she did not think he was the jealous type.
He was home the next morning and left for work between 6:30 and 7 a.m., Ballew testified.
Prosecutors say Cooper knew about the affair, and they noted Tuesday that he had access to the Andrewses’ address by way of an employee contact sheet Ballew kept close to the computer she and Cooper shared.
Ballew identified Cooper’s motorcycle helmet, a picture of his motorcycle and his camouflage jacket. She then identified Cooper as the figure riding a motorcycle in a video captured by a gas station in Gateway.
Cooper’s attorneys portrayed Ballew as someone who looked out for herself, to the detriment of others.
“You didn’t feel as if (Cooper) was stable enough to know you were running out to have a one-night stand?” Beatriz Taquechel, Cooper’s co-counsel, asked Ballew at one point.
The attorney asked about a phone call between Ballew and Michelle, in which the wife confronted Ballew over an expensive, personalized Secret Santa gift she gave Steven.
Ballew had said Michelle was “nasty in tone.”
Taquechel asked, “Because as a mother and a wife who has had difficulty in her marriage, she should have no angry feelings toward you?”
The attorney asked why Ballew, at the request of detectives, asked Cooper to come down to come to the sheriff’s office to provide her an alibi. Cooper was their target, not Ballew.
Ballew said she was scared.
“At that point in time, in that state of mind, I felt he could give me an alibi,” she said. “And that’s what I was looking for, yes.”
When Taquechel asked Ballew if it is true that she has remarried, Ballew brushed off the question, replying that it is not relevant.
Tuesday afternoon, jurors were shown a video clip of a figure on a yellow motorcycle riding past the gas pumps at a 7-11 station in the Gateway neighborhood.
The clip came before the second half of the day’s proceedings, when five eyewitnesses testified about seeing a stranger in the Andrewses’ Gateway community on the night before their bodies were discovered.
Each described a similar man on foot — roughly 6 feet in height, Caucasian, with short hair. He wore a camouflage jacket.
“He had very catching eyes that just drew you in,” Whitney Tinsley testified. “Very noticeable eyes.”
Tinsley, who lived in the neighborhood at the time, was out with her dogs near the gate when the man entered about 11 p.m. from an adjacent field, she said.
Three high school boys then testified they saw the man round a corner and walk in the direction of the Andrewses’ home at about the same time.
Another neighbor of the Andrewses, Doug Jimmo, 42, said he saw a similar man enter the community and walk toward the home just before 7 a.m. the next morning. As Jimmo drove to work 15 minutes later, he saw the man walking through the field away from the community.
Each witness pointed to Cooper as resembling the man they saw.
Cooper’s attorneys challenged each account, questioning whether the light and focus of each witness was strong enough to identify the man. None had spoken to him, they pointed out.
As with previous days of the trial, questions from both parties appeared to anticipate Cooper’s possible testimony.
In his first trial, Cooper claimed he had sex with Michelle inside a car parked in their driveway on the night before her death. The two had been consoling one another about their spouses’ affair, and she called him that night, he said.
Prosecutors emphasized an e-mail Steven sent to Ballew on Dec. 26, 2005. A time stamp recorded it having been sent at 11:30 p.m., roughly the time Cooper would have been meeting Michelle.
Ballew said Steven would have mentioned in his e-mail if his wife was away.
Prosecutors also asked each neighborhood witness whether they saw or heard a motorcycle that night. None said they did.
Taquechel, in her cross-examination of Ballew, asked about her and Cooper’s form of birth control. The judge ruled the question irrelevant.
A vaginal swab taken from Michelle’s body in 2005 showed no traces of Cooper’s semen.
Steven Beardsley is a staff writer for the Naples Daily News. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.