- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2001

RICHMOND (AP) Federal authorities are investigating the claims of a convicted murderer who says he is innocent of the 1990 killing of a Richmond woman.
Jeffrey David Cox has steadfastly disputed the accounts of two witnesses who said he and another man abducted Louise Cooper, 63, from her home on Aug. 31, 1990. She was later found stabbed to death in a park.
This week, federal officials filed court documents that implicate two others in the slaying. In May, Stephen Hood was charged with Ms. Cooper's killing, and this week prosecutors said a witness told investigators that a second man, identified in court documents as William Madison, said "He and Stephen Hood committed the Cooper murder and Jeffrey Cox was innocent."
Cox's attorneys said they hope the new information will persuade the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn his sentence of life plus 50 years.
"We're very excited and encouraged," said Steven D. Benjamin, one of the attorneys. "We have an innocent client but were without the DNA evidence to prove it. Now we have evidence that is pretty compelling."
The Virginia attorney general's office contends that Cox got a fair trial and his conviction should stand.
"Recent filings in the Stephen Hood case do not establish that Jeffrey Cox is innocent," said Randy Davis, spokesman for Attorney General Randolph A. Beales. "It is our understanding, from everything we know about the Hood and Cox cases. It is not the position of the prosecution in the Hood case that Mr. Cox is innocent."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Trono, who is handling the state court case as part of a joint federal-local task force, declined to comment on Mr. Davis' remarks, but one of Mr. Trono's motions suggested he didn't think much of the evidence the state introduced in the Cox trial. Mr. Trono's motion asked that jurors in Mr. Hood's trial not be told of Cox's conviction because it is simply "a conclusion drawn from facts presented to a jury in 1991."
Mr. Benjamin and other defense lawyers said the attorney general's office usually fights inmates' efforts to reinvestigate their cases and rarely admits on appeal that the state made a mistake.
Mr. Davis said the state admits mistakes when appropriate. In February, Virginia acknowledged that the Petersburg jury who recommended the death penalty for a man it had just convicted of murder should have been told that Virginia has no parole and that a recommendation of life imprisonment would have meant the killer would never be released an outcome some jurors feared. In July, a Dinwiddie man also got a new trial after the state agreed that his lawyer had been inadequate.
Cox, now 33, was convicted in 1991 after a one-day trial based on the testimony of two of Ms. Cooper's neighbors.
But one witness had given inconsistent statements, and jurors did not know that two police sketches of the killer did not look similar to each other and didn't resemble Cox.
The jury was given no motive for the crime, although lawyers said in a pretrial hearing that authorities suspected Madison and another man had abducted Ms. Cooper by mistake when they had gone looking for the relative of a drug dealer who had cheated on a deal.
Cox, an air conditioning repairman from New Kent County, and other defense witnesses testified that he was with his girlfriend when the crime occurred.
A state lab found that fingernail clippings from Ms. Cooper's body appeared to contain human flesh, suggesting she scratched her attackers. But the evidence was lost and never tested for DNA.


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