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Appeals Court awards new trial to convicted husband

RALEIGH (AP) — The North Carolina Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial for a Cary man convicted of strangling his wife five years ago.

The court on Tuesday ordered a new trial for 39-year-old Brad Cooper, who had been sentenced to life in prison. He was convicted in 2011 of first-degree murder in the death of Nancy Cooper, who he said had gone jogging and never returned home.

Nancy Cooper’s body was found in a drainage ditch in the cul-de-sac of an unfinished subdivision near their home.

The judges said the trial judge made a mistake in limiting the testimony of an expert on a Google Maps search of the site where her body was found.

The court said the Google Map files recovered from Brad Cooper’s laptop computer were perhaps the most important pieces of evidence in the trial. Judge Paul Gessner ruled that computer experts hired by Cooper’s attorneys could not testify about computer evidence the prosecution used, saying issues of national security were involved.

An FBI agent had helped police examine Cooper’s computer, and Gessner ruled the agent did not have to explain how the FBI does its analysis because of the need to keep that information confidential.

“It was error for the trial court to shut down this line of questioning without ascertaining how, or if, national security or some other legitimate interest outweighed the probative value of this information to Defendant,” the appeals court ruled.

Prosecutors contended Cooper had used satellite imagery of the area to find a place to put his wife’s body.

Witnesses testified that the couple had marital problems.

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