Cooper takes stand, testifies about affair
Fred Cooper’s fate moves into the hands of 12 Pinellas County jurors today.
Monday, the panel listened as the defendant described having sex with one of the victims and then lying to conceal the act. Even as a double-homicide rap loomed, Cooper feared that his longtime girlfriend would discover the slip, he said.
“The worst thing in my mind is that (detectives) actually find out what was going on between me and Michelle and it would get back to Kellie,” he said.
Michelle Andrews and her husband, Steven, both 28, were found dead in their Gateway bedroom on the morning of Dec. 27, 2005. Cooper, 30, became the immediate suspect when detectives learned his longtime girlfriend, Kellie Ballew, had recently begun an affair with Steven, a co-worker.
Cooper told jurors Monday that he and Michelle became “allies” as they tried to salvage their relationships. They had sex the night before the couple was found dead.
Michelle was “someone to talk to, someone who was going through the same experiences I was going through in my relationship and had been in the past,” Cooper said.
Through three-and-a-half hours of testimony, Cooper answered questions calmly, always turning his head to jurors with each response. He once appeared to choke up as he spoke about his daughter.
Cooper said he knew Michelle through Ballew and Steven’s work. He was surprised when she called him at his workplace to tell him about the suspected affair.
“I wasn’t sure that (Ballew) was actually doing it,” he said.
He and Michelle stayed in touch through the following weeks, Cooper said. Each time, she called from her cordless home phone to a phone at the Fort Myers motorshop where he worked.
The conversations were limited, he said, and would not have aroused the attention of his boss.
On Dec. 26, 2005, Cooper and Michelle met in her driveway at about 11 p.m., he said. Cooper did not open the community gates, but drove his motorcycle on a walkway that passed around the gates.
Michelle told him that their spouses’ relationship was sexual.
“She was very upset, angry,” he said.
“I was upset also. I was angry also,” Cooper explained. “I had been through this in the past with Kellie.”
The two, in need of an emotional connection, Cooper claimed, had sex in the backseat of Steven’s Toyota 4-Runner, which was parked in the driveway. Cooper said he then drove his motorcycle to Fort Myers Beach, where he walked down a pier and thought things over, finally returning home at about 3 a.m.
Yet, when questioned by detectives on the day the bodies were found, Cooper would say he was tinkering with his motorcycle at home on the night of Dec. 26, 2005, and that he had not been to Gateway that night.
He lied not only to protect Ballew from the truth, he said, but because he believed she was a suspect. He could not account for her whereabouts if he was not at home, he explained.
“I was asked to give Kellie an alibi,” Cooper said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
Cooper’s testimony carried considerable weight in his first trial, in October, according to former jurors. The Lee County jury failed to return a verdict.
This time, prosecutors attacked some of the gaps they did not address originally. Chief Assistant State Attorney Randy McGruther began by noting that Cooper had time to see the state’s evidence before going to trial.
“So you’ve had three years to review that and study it and come up with a story that fits the evidence?” McGruther asked.
“I did not come up with a story,” Cooper replied calmly.
McGruther attacked the seeming lack of common sense in some of Cooper’s statements.
Why, he wondered, had Cooper never called Michelle, not even for the simplest of reasons — to double-check a meeting time and place, to ask her to open her community’s gates.
“You never saw any reason to have her number or contact her?” he asked.
Cooper said he did not.
A crime scene technician testified last week that none of Michelle’s phones had records of Cooper’s phone numbers.
McGruther asked why Cooper’s semen was never found inside the 4-Runner or anywhere else in the crime scene.
Cooper claimed he left his bodily fluids on Michelle’s stomach, a personal birth control practice. He told jurors that Michelle cleaned herself with a napkin.
“Was she carrying the napkins when she came out of the house?” McGruther asked.
Cooper said he assumed they came from the glove compartment. But the napkins were never found, either in the 4-Runner or in the home’s trash cans.
McGruther wondered why Cooper scrubbed his jacket with chemical cleaners shortly after detectives requested it as evidence.
He said he was not thinking.
“It wasn’t that I was trying, necessarily, to get that jacket clean,” he said. “I was just trying to keep myself busy.”
Neighbors of the Andrewses testified about seeing a stranger in the neighborhood on the night of Dec. 26, 2005, and early the next morning.
Jurors also heard from two witnesses who described seeing a white-panel van parked outside the Andrewses’ Cypress Point community around the time of the killings.
Today each side will present their closing argument. Both estimate they will need 90 minutes, after which Judge Thomas S. Reese will charge the jury with instructions.
If jurors return a guilty verdict, the court will move immediately to a penalty phase, after which jurors will recommend Cooper’s sentence.
Cooper could face the death penalty.
Steven Beardsley is a staff writer for the Naples Daily News. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.