- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

DOVER, Del. (AP) - The Delaware Supreme Court is considering the latest appeal by a death row inmate twice convicted of the 2005 rape and killing of a University of Delaware student.

The court heard arguments Wednesday in an appeal seeking to overturn the 2012 conviction and death sentence of James Cooke Jr. following his retrial in the death of Lindsey Bonistall of White Plains, New York. The justices are expected to issue their ruling within 90 days.

The Supreme Court in 2009 overturned Cooke’s 2007 initial conviction for the murder of Bonistall because his public defenders, without Cooke’s consent and despite his repeated claims of innocence, argued he was guilty but mentally ill.

Wednesday’s hearing focused primarily on two arguments.

Among other things, the defense is challenging the trial judge’s decision to allow a woman to remain on the jury after learning that she had not truthfully answered a questionnaire given to potential jurors.

The questionnaire asked if the prospective juror, or a relative or close friend, had ever been a witness to or a victim of a violent crime. It also asked if the prospective juror or relative had ever been arrested for a crime or was under investigation or prosecution for a crime. The woman failed to disclose that she had witnessed a fight between her daughter and her husband that led to criminal charges against him. She told the court about the case only after being subpoenaed to appear in Family Court, after Cooke already had been convicted of murder and the penalty phase of his trial was about to start.

The defense argued that Cooke should have been allowed to challenge the woman’s ability to be impartial in his case, given the state’s pending criminal charges against her husband.

Defense attorneys also are challenging the trial judge’s decision to revoke Cooke’s right to represent himself after his frequent courtroom outbursts and refusal to follow the judge’s directions.

Yet they also argue that the judge should never allowed Cooke to represent himself in the first place, given his pretrial courtroom behavior and the likelihood that his behavior at trial would likely inflame jurors.

Prosecutors said Cooke broke into Bonistall’s off-campus apartment and raped and strangled her before placing her body in a bathtub and setting the apartment on fire. According to prosecutors, Cooke later called a 911 dispatcher and provided details about the killing, as well as two burglaries at nearby residences just days before.

The 911 call made by Cooke, who is black, suggested that the killing of Bonistall, who was white, was part of a drug war involving white supremacists. The voice on the tape also referred to “KKK” and “White Power” graffiti found in Bonistall’s apartment.


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