A Marine Corps sergeant accused of killing his wife, girlfriend and 5-year-old daughter in an Arlington motel room told jurors yesterday that his jealous girlfriend committed two of the killings.
Sgt. Zachary Cooper, 24, of Fort Knox, Ky., is facing a possible death sentence for the shootings of Maya Davidson Cooper, 22, Marie Gault, 20, and Dessire Cooper, his daughter from a previous relationship, in January 2002.
In testimony yesterday, Sgt. Cooper admitted slaying Miss Gault but said Miss Gault killed Mrs. Cooper and Dessire.
He said he stayed in the bathroom of his motel room when he heard an argument erupt between the two women. He then heard gunshots but stayed in the bathroom until everything quieted down, he said.
When he came out, he said, he saw Miss Gault holding his rifle, and his wife and daughter shot. He said that Miss Gault hit him with the gun when he tended to his wife, and that he then stabbed Miss Gault, took the gun and shot her in the head.
Prosecutors challenged Sgt. Cooper’s version of events during an intense cross-examination. They say they believe Sgt. Cooper killed all three people so he could start a new life with another woman.
Sgt. Cooper told the jury that he stayed in the bathroom during the argument because “I didn’t want to get stuck in the argument of who I loved more.” After shots were fired, he remained in the bathroom even though his daughter was in the room, in danger.
“I was scared. I had never been shot at before. I had never walked into a gunfight. I didn’t know if I would get shot, so I chose to hide in the bathroom,” he said.
Although Sgt. Cooper said he had no idea that Miss Gault would be at the motel, Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard Trodden contended that he had lured all three to the motel.
Sgt. Cooper said he brought the gun up to the motel room because he was afraid it would be stolen if he left it in the car. He also said he had shown Miss Gault how to use the gun at a Northern Virginia shooting range.
But he acknowledged to Mr. Trodden that he could not find the range when police took him to look for it.
Prosecutors have said Sgt. Cooper had reason to want all three dead. Sgt. Cooper said he wanted to divorce his wife for a variety of reasons and that he had promised to marry Miss Gault, a woman he had twice impregnated. His daughter had accused him of molestation.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Janell Wolfe asked for a mistrial, complaining about a question in which Mr. Trodden insinuated that Sgt. Cooper had changed his story about his relationship with Miss Gault when DNA evidence showed the two had sexual relations the weekend of the killings. Circuit Judge Joanne F. Alper denied the request.
Sgt. Cooper denied abusing his daughter.
He, Mrs. Cooper and Marie Gault all grew up in Arlington. Sgt. Cooper attended Wakefield High, where he was the school’s Warrior mascot.
Attorneys will present closing arguments today, then the case will go to the jury. If Sgt. Cooper is convicted of capital murder, Mr. Trodden said, he will “present the option” of the death penalty to the jury as a punishment.