- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

A Marine Corps sergeant could face the death penalty after being indicted for the fatal shootings of his wife, his girlfriend and his 5-year-old daughter in an Arlington County motel room in January.
Sgt. Zachary M. Cooper, 23, of Fort Knox, Ky., will be arraigned tomorrow on four counts of capital murder and three counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Sgt. Cooper, who is in jail without bond, faces two capital murder charges in the death of 5-year-old Dessire Cooper once because her death is part of a multiple homicide and a second time because Virginia law allows a capital murder charge when the victim is younger than 14.
Before last Friday's indictments, Sgt. Cooper had only been charged with the death of Marie Gault, 20, of Arlington, a one-time girlfriend. Nobody had been charged in the deaths of Maya Lajuan Davidson Cooper, 22, or Desiree.
Sgt. Cooper's attorney, Bobby Stafford, has said his client "was in a horrific struggle" and that self-defense likely would be an issue at trial. He also suggested that more than one person was responsible for the shootings.
Mr. Stafford was not immediately available for comment yesterday.
Arlington Commonwealth's Attorney Richard Trodden declined to discuss the case in detail, but said the evidence that Sgt. Cooper shot all three persons "was sufficient to present to a grand jury."
He declined to say whether he would seek the death penalty if Sgt. Cooper is convicted of capital murder. "We keep those options open," Mr. Trodden said.
The three slayings were more than Arlington had in all of 2001, when the county had two homicides.
Autopsy records show that Miss Cooper and Dessire were shot to death, while Miss Gault died from 18 stab wounds and a gunshot wound to the head.
An Arlington County police officer testified at Sgt. Cooper's preliminary hearing that he was called to the motel for a domestic disturbance.
When he reached the motel room, he said he heard loud voices and a gunshot. He knocked on the door and Sgt. Cooper opened it. Inside were three bodies and Miss Gault's 19-month-old daughter, unharmed but crying and clinging to her dead mother.
A court affidavit states that Sgt. Cooper said, "Please help me, please help me," as he answered the door.

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