Jurors hear from victim’s father in Fred Cooper trial
The two dramas unfolded on the same day.
As life turned upside down for the families of Steven and Michelle Andrews, a snare began to tighten around the man accused of killing them, Fred Cooper.
On Thursday, jurors in Cooper’s double homicide trial heard both accounts, when Steven’s father and Walter Ryan, the lead detective in the case, testified.
Both testimonies focused largely on the same day, Dec. 27, 2005. That is when the Andrewses, both 28, were found dead in a bedroom of their Gateway home. Steven had been shot to death; Michelle was badly beaten and asphyxiated to death.
Cooper is charged with two counts of first-degree homicide and one count of armed burglary. His first trial, in October, ended when a Lee County jury failed to reach a verdict. If convicted, Cooper could face the death penalty.
Russell and Barbara Andrews were in town to see their son and his wife on the week the killings occurred. They were staying at an airport hotel, and on the morning of Dec. 27, 2005, they were to meet their son for a trip to Naples.
“Steve is very prompt,” Russell said.
But he did not show up at the agreed-upon time.
As the couple waited, Russell saw an unmarked detective’s car pull up to the hotel. A detective asked for the Andrewses.
The car and the detective had been sent by Ryan. He had just looked over the crime scene as forensic experts scoured the house.
“You want to try to establish the motive,” Ryan told jurors. “Is this a burglary? Was the TV missing, any china, any valuables?”
When he returned to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, he broke the news to the family.
“Walter walked in and said, ‘I’m sorry,'” Russell recalled Thursday with a sob. “He said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you that your children are dead.'”
In interviews with the family, Ryan learned that the marriage between Steven and Michelle had become troubled, that Steven was possibly involved with another woman.
But it was a call from that woman that began to move the case. Kellie Ballew, Cooper’s girlfriend of more than six years and the mother of their child, agreed to talk with detectives about her relationship with Steven. By the end of the interview, Ryan wanted to hear from Cooper.
He had a camouflage jacket, just like a stranger several Gateway residents recalled seeing the night before the bodies were found. He had a gun, Ballew told them. And he was devastated over losing Ballew.
Ballew called Cooper from the sheriff’s office, telling him in a panicked voice that she needed an alibi. Cooper came.
Jurors listened to audio of the interview.
Detectives asked about his relationship with Ballew and his distress over it. They asked about a phone call between Ballew and Michelle, in which Michelle confronted Ballew about the expensive Secret Santa gifts she had given Steven.
They acted like Ballew was the suspect, but then they turned to Cooper.
They asked him about the gun, which Cooper claims to have thrown away. They ask if any neighbors saw him working on his motorcycle and testing it around his Bonita Springs neighborhood, as he claimed. They ask him if he had been to Gateway.
“I have no idea where Steven and Michelle live,” Cooper said. “I know they live in Gateway, but I don’t know where.”
After the interview ended, the detectives searched Cooper and Ballew’s home with their permission. They wanted a camouflage jacket and a gun, but they did not find either. They took pictures of Cooper’s scratched arm and bruised knuckles.
In the two days that followed, detectives followed up on Cooper’s story. They found that the gate in his community recorded him returning home at 3:01 a.m. Dec. 27, 2005. They found surveillance video of a yellow motorcycle in Gateway.
They also collected his camouflage jacket, which Cooper was seen cleaning and altering before detectives could take it.
In a second interview, on Dec. 29, 2005, they wanted him to confess.
“All of that’s a lie,” one of the detectives could be heard saying about Cooper’s story. “And I’ll show it to you.”
Cooper said a surveillance video shows a figure on a yellow motorcycle, but that it is not him.
“I didn’t do it,” he said.
Detectives took his motorcycle. They searched his home again. They began surveillance on him.
Cooper was arrested Jan. 11, 2006.
During cross-examination, Cooper’s lead attorney, Ken Garber, asked Ryan about the evidence they collected against Cooper. They took DNA samples, took his shoes, his jacket and his motorcycle. They searched his home, twice.
“So you were trying to develop DNA evidence in this case to link Fred to the Andrewses’ house?” Garber asked. “You were also trying to develop DNA evidence that would link Michelle Andrews or Steven Andrews to Fred’s motorcycle and to perhaps garments that he had?”
Cooper, Garber said, had nothing to hide and had cooperated at every step.
Also Thursday, prosecutors continued to anticipate Cooper’s possible testimony.
In his first trial, Cooper told jurors that he and Michelle had sex in a Toyota 4-Runner parked in the Andrewses’ driveway on the night of Dec. 26, 2005. The two had consoled each other over their spouses’ affairs, Cooper said, and they were in touch by phone.
A records custodian for a phone company verified phone records from Michelle’s cell phone showing no contact between her and Cooper. The records were submitted into evidence.
Russell also testified that Michelle never drove the 4-Runner because it was a stick shift. The vehicle was typically locked, he said.
Near the end of the day, Robin Ragsdale, a DNA analyst supervisor with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, began testimony about DNA evidence in the case.
She and other experts will continue testimony Friday.
Also Thursday, Judge Thomas S. Reese warned both parties that Cooper’s penalty phase, if he is found guilty, will begin immediately.
Reese said he wants jurors to begin deliberations Tuesday morning. The trial must relinquish the courtroom after Friday.
In a penalty phase, jurors must decide whether to recommend the death penalty for a defendant. Witnesses can be called by both parties.
The phase typically lasts less than three days, said David A. Brener, a criminal defense lawyer in Fort Myers. But long deliberations could push the phase from next week.
Steven Beardsley is a staff writer for the Naples Daily News. Contact email@example.com.