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James E. Cooke, Jr. - Delaware
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    James E. Cooke, Jr. - Delaware


    Lindsey Marie Bonistall




    Summary of Offense:

    On May 1, 2005, James E. Cooke, Jr., then 34, broke into the apartment of University of Delaware student, Lindsey Bonistall, 20; he proceeded to rape and strangle her to death, then he put her body in the bathtub. In an attempt to throw off the police detectives, Cooke scrawled white-supremacist graffiti on the walls of Lindsey's apartment before setting it on fire in an attempt to cover up the crime. Cooke used a blue magic-marker to write "KKK" in several places near the front door of Lindsey Bonistall's Towne Court apartment.

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    Del. court overturns death penalty conviction

    DOVER, Del. – The Delaware Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a man sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a college student.

    The justices issued a 3-2 split ruling Tuesday, ordering a new trial for James E. Cooke Jr. He was sentenced for the 2005 rape and murder of Lindsay Bonistall, a 20-year-old University of Delaware sophomore.

    Prosecutors accused Cooke of breaking into the woman's apartment and raping and strangling her before setting the apartment on fire.

    The ruling says Cooke's right to a fair trial was violated when his trial lawyers sought a verdict of guilty but mentally ill — even though Cooke vehemently disagreed and proclaimed his innocence.

    The Delaware attorney general's office issued a statement saying it was reviewing the ruling.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090721/...udent_killed_1

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    Delaware to appeal Bonistall murder case to U.S. Supreme Court

    WILMINGTON, Del. - State prosecutors will ask the nation's highest court to restore the conviction and death sentence for a man accused of the 2005 rape and murder of a University of Delaware sophomore from White Plains.

    Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden today announced that his office will be asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the 2007 conviction of James Cooke Jr. for the rape and murder of Lindsey M. Bonistall.

    "We have consulted with the family of Lindsey Bonistall, and recognize the pain they continue to experience as this case makes its way through the judicial process," Biden said in a statement. "We will continue to fight for justice."

    The Supreme Court rejects an estimated 99 percent of petitions seeking review each year, but law professors and attorneys believe the Cooke case raises some unique legal issues that have the potential to affect similar cases across the nation, making it attractive to the high court.

    Cooke's appellate attorneys, Jennifer-Kate Aaronson and Joseph Gabay said the attorney general's decision was "not a surprise."

    The Oct. 21 deadline to file a petition with the Supreme Court had been extended, at the state's request last month, to Monday.

    In July the Delaware Supreme Court threw out the jury finding of guilt against Cooke, and the judge's subsequent imposition of the death penalty, because Cooke's public defenders admitted his guilt - over his objections - by claiming to the jury that their client was guilty but mentally ill.

    Cooke denied both killing Bonistall and that he is mentally ill.

    What could make an argument before the U.S. Supreme Court awkward for the Attorney General's Office is the fact that prosecutors, before the trial, argued exactly what the state Supreme Court later found: that entering a guilty but mentally ill plea over Cooke's objections deprived him of his constitutional rights.

    When prosecutors raised the issue before the trial, Superior Court Judge Jerome O. Herlihy declined to intervene and allowed the case to proceed. Cooke's public defenders, Brendan O'Neill and Kevin O'Connell, argued that to stop them from entering such a plea would be improper meddling by the prosecutor and the court in the defense of a client. They also argued that Cooke was likely to come around on the issue and agree to the defense - which could have spared his life - because of the "mountain" of evidence against him.

    If the state is successful in getting the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the state Supreme Court, it will spare Bonistall's family from having to endure another lengthy trial. If the state is unsuccessful, the move could simply prolong an inevitable retrial, pushing it months or years into the future, and possibly weakening by the passage of time what many legal experts say is a strong case against Cooke.

    According to testimony at the 2007 trial, Cooke broke into the 20-year-old Bonistall's off-campus Towne Court apartment, a short distance from where Cooke lived in Newark, Del., on May 1, 2005.

    He raped and strangled Bonistall, according to prosecutors, and then, in an apparent effort to cover his tracks, defaced her apartment with misleading racist graffiti like "White Power" and set her body and the apartment on fire. DNA evidence linked Cooke to the crime but Cooke claimed the sex was consensual and that he did not kill Bonistall.

    The jury found him guilty and recommended the death penalty, which Herlihy later imposed.

    Cooke's monthlong trial was also marked by his repeated outbursts. He was removed from the courtroom on several occasions.

    Cooke's appellate attorneys, Aaronson and Joseph Gabay, then argued that his trial attorneys had violated his rights by their trial strategy and the Delaware Supreme Court agreed in a rare 3-2 split decision.

    Gabay said today that they plan to defend the ruling that tossed out the conviction and argue that the U.S. Supreme Court "has no need to take the case, but if they do we are confident they will uphold the Constitution and affirm the Delaware Supreme Court's decision."

    http://www.lohud.com/article/2009911060392

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    Supreme Court delays Cooke decision

    The U.S. Supreme Court delayed making a decision Tuesday about a Delaware petition seeking to reinstate the conviction and death penalty against James E. Cooke Jr. for the 2005 rape and murder of Lindsey M. Bonistall.

    Attorneys expected, and the court schedule indicated, that the justices would announce a decision Tuesday -- accepting the case for review or sending it back to Delaware for a retrial -- but neither happened.

    Instead, the high court reset the matter to be discussed in a private meeting among the justices Friday.

    No official reason was given for the delay, but a Supreme Court spokesman said the justices may have wanted more time to review the matter.

    "We continue to await the court's decision," said Jason Miller, spokesman for Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden.

    At issue in the appeal is not Cooke's guilt but if Cooke's fundamental right to a fair trial was violated when his public defenders entered a plea of guilty but mentally ill at trial on Cooke's behalf over Cooke's objections.

    Cooke maintained he was neither guilty nor mentally ill -- repeatedly -- during the course of his six-week trial in 2007.

    The Delaware Supreme Court, in a rare split decision last year, ruled that the actions of Cooke's attorneys crossed the line and Cooke was entitled to a new trial.

    Prosecutors disagreed and took the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping the nation's highest court would reinstate the conviction and death sentence. This would also spare the Bonistall family from having to endure a second trial.

    According to testimony at the 2007 trial, Cooke, 39, broke into the off-campus apartment of Bonistall on May 1, 2005. Prosecutors said Cooke raped and strangled the 20-year-old University of Delaware student and then, in an attempt to cover his tracks, defaced the apartment with racist graffiti and set the body and the apartment on fire. DNA evidence linked Cooke to the crime but Cooke claimed there had been consensual sex and that he did not kill Bonistall. A jury found Cooke guilty and recommended the death penalty, which a judge later imposed. But the verdict and sentence were reversed by the state Supreme Court.

    Cooke remains in custody while his case is being considered in Washington.

    http://www.delawareonline.com/articl...0324/1006/NEWS

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    Supreme Court refuses to reinstate conviction in Bonistall slaying; retrial planned

    The U.S. Supreme Court today denied the Delaware Attorney General's request to have the high court reinstate the conviction and death sentence of James E. Cooke Jr. in the rape and murder of University of Delaware student Lindsey M. Bonistall of White Plains.

    This means that the case will return to Delaware and be set for a retrial as the Delaware Supreme Court had ordered last year.

    "Obviously this is a dark day for us," said Lindsey Bonistall's father, Mark, from his home today. "We were hoping they would see it otherwise," he said, adding, "It is deeply disturbing that the judicial system protects the lawless and disregards the rights of victims. This is not a loophole in the law, it is a sinkhole."

    Mark Bonistall said going through a retrial will be "a tremendous burden both emotionally and financially" for the family.

    Bonistall said the evidence against Cooke "speaks for itself" and to force the family and friends of Lindsey Bonistall to go through it all again "is cruel." But, he told the Associated Press in a separate interview, “I’d rather not endure a trial, but this man savagely murdered my daughter; brutally, as brutal as brutal can be. We’d like to see justice done, that’s all.”

    As is typical in such cases, the nation's highest court did not explain why it did not accept the case, but simply sent it back as "denied."

    The ruling comes after the court twice scheduled a meeting on the case and twice passed on making a decision.

    At issue in the appeal was not Cooke's guilt but if Cooke's fundamental right to a fair trial was violated by his public defenders entering a plea of guilty but mentally ill on Cooke's behalf at trial over Cooke's objections.

    Cooke maintained he was neither guilty nor mentally ill - repeatedly - during the course of his six-week trial in 2007.

    The Delaware Supreme Court, in a rare split decision last year, ruled that the actions of Cooke's attorneys did cross the line and Cooke was entitled to a new trial.

    Prosecutors disagreed and then took the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Joseph Gabay, Cooke's appellate lawyer, praised the ruling "I'm not surprised," he said. "I think it is the appropriate decision because the Delaware Supreme Court was correct in its analysis. I'm expecting the next trial will be a fair one for Mr. Cooke and that is all a defendant can ask for."

    It is unclear when that new trial will take place, but Gabay estimated it will take about six months to a year to get back before a jury in Superior Court.

    The Delaware Attorney General's office did not have an immediate comment.

    According to testimony at the 2007 trial, Cooke broke into the off-campus apartment of Bonistall on May 1, 2005. Prosecutors said Cooke raped and strangled the 20-year-old and then, in an attempt to cover his tracks, defaced the apartment with racist graffiti and set the body and the apartment on fire. DNA evidence linked Cooke to the crime, but Cooke claimed the sex had been consensual and that he did not kill Bonistall. A jury found Cooke guilty and recommended the death penalty, which a judge later imposed. But both the verdict and sentence were subsequently reversed by the state Supreme Court.

    In court papers, prosecutors argued that the actions of Cooke's attorneys were reasonable given the "mountain" of evidence against their client. They also argued to the high court that the case raises significant issues about where the legal line is drawn between an attorney's requirement to zealously defend their clients and clients' rights to make their own decisions.

    Cooke's appellate attorneys disagreed, charging Cooke was denied a basic constitutional right to counsel and therefore is entitled to a retrial as the Delaware Supreme Court ordered. They also argued that this was not the proper case for the high court to consider to resolve legal issues about the role of an attorney

    http://www.lohud.com/article/2010022...etrial-planned

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    Delaware courts: New trial, but same judge for Cooke

    The judge will remain the same at next year's retrial of James E. Cooke Jr. for the rape and murder of University of Delaware student Lindsey Bonistall.

    In a 96-page opinion issued late last month, Superior Court Judge Jerome O. Herlihy turned down a defense motion seeking to force him off the case.

    Defense attorneys Jennifer-Kate Aaronson and Patrick J. Collins had argued that there was a "de facto" rule in Delaware that judges who have sentenced someone to death are not supposed to hear a retrial if that case is overturned.

    They also argued that Herlihy may be biased against Cooke because of the earlier proceedings.

    Herlihy, however, responded that there is no rule -- de facto or otherwise -- against a judge rehearing a case when he or she has imposed the death penalty. In his analysis, Herlihy pointed out that there have been other reasons why, in previous Delaware death-penalty cases, that a different judge had been assigned to rehear a case.

    He also wrote that the earlier proceedings did not taint his view of Cooke.

    "The remand trial is on a clean slate," Herlihy wrote.

    Cooke is accused of the 2005 rape and murder of Bonistall at her off-campus apartment in Newark. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2007 after a lengthy trial, but the Delaware Supreme Court overturned the case, ruling Cooke's rights had been violated because his defense team had argued Cooke was guilty but mentally ill over Cooke's expressed objections.

    The re-trial is set for February 2011.

    http://www.delawareonline.com/articl...0331/1006/NEWS

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    Judge off case in Cooke trial

    Unforeseen ruling disqualifies Herlihy

    Since last month, slaying suspect James E. Cooke Jr. has had no defense counsel after a judge agreed to dismiss the attorneys from the case.

    Now it is also a case without a judge.

    Superior Court Judge Jerome O. Herlihy -- who presided over Cooke's first trial, in which Cooke was convicted, and sentenced him to death -- is off the case.

    Last week, the Delaware Supreme Court, without any formal motion or request, issued a new rule that any judge who presides over a capital case and imposes a death sentence cannot preside over a retrial or a new penalty hearing.

    The short order, signed by all five justices, did not include an explanation.

    In September, Herlihy wrote a 96-page opinion saying there was no rule requiring him to step aside from the re-hearing and he could set aside any information from the previous trial to provide Cooke with a "clean slate" at retrial.

    The court's docket did not reflect any change in Cooke's case on Monday, but Herlihy's office confirmed the judge is no longer assigned to the retrial.

    One of the only legal officials still attached to the case, Deputy Attorney General Steven Wood, acknowledged Monday that the case against Cooke -- accused of the May 2005 rape and murder of University of Delaware sophomore Lindsey Bonistall -- is "unfortunately in a holding pattern."

    In addition to no judge and no legal counsel for Cooke, the case also lacks a trial date.

    "We are hopeful that the situation will be resolved promptly and that the matter can proceed to trial with all appropriate speed," Wood said.

    During a December hearing, at which Herlihy ultimately agreed to dismiss Cooke's attorneys, Jennifer-Kate Aaronson and Patrick Collins, Cooke complained about Herlihy's continuing to preside over the case.

    Cooke, 39, called the judge "evil" at one point and complained that he could not get a fair retrial from a judge who sentenced him to death. "I don't want to hear it until you repent for your sins," Cooke told Herlihy.

    It was Aaronson who got Cooke's conviction and death sentence overturned. But in the end, Cooke decided Aaronson and Collins were somehow colluding with prosecutors to get him convicted again, filing complaints with the state's office of disciplinary counsel as well as several federal court civil suits and telling Herlihy he had already "fired" the pair when they requested removal.

    Cooke's first conviction was tossed out because his first legal team -- public defenders Brendan O'Neill and Kevin O'Connell -- argued at trial that Cooke was guilty but mentally ill over Cooke's adamant protests that he was neither guilty nor mentally ill.

    The Delaware Supreme Court ruled Cooke's attorneys violated their client's rights when they took that legal approach.

    One of the things Cooke held against Aaronson and Collins was that the pair attempted to have a mental health expert evaluate him. Cooke demanded that any new legal team be barred from conducting such an evaluation.

    Before he left the case, Herlihy ruled that Cooke could be assigned new legal counsel at public expense but warned Cooke that if he continued to feud with his appointed attorneys, he risked being forced to represent himself at the retrial.

    The new Supreme Court rule calls for President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. to assign a new judge to the case.

    It will then fall to either Vaughn or the judge assigned to the case to find new defense counsel for Cooke.

    http://www.delawareonline.com/articl...heme=BONISTALL

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    Delaware courts: New defense assigned in James E. Cooke Jr. retrial

    WILMINGTON -- Less than a week after a new judge was assigned to oversee the retrial of James E. Cooke Jr. for the rape and murder of a University of Delaware student, a new defense team has been assigned to represent Cooke.

    Attorneys Anthony A. Figliola Jr. and Peter Veith will be defending Cooke, 40, against charges that in May 2005 he broke into the off-campus apartment of Lindsey M. Bonistall, raped and murdered the 20-year-old, then set the unit on fire to cover his tracks.

    With the new defense team in place and Superior Court Judge Charles H. Toliver IV presiding, it would appear the prosecution is now back on track. However, Figliola estimated Tuesday it would take a least a year to 18 months for the defense to be ready for the retrial. "I don't think you will see the retrial until next spring or summer," he said.

    Figliola said neither he nor Veith have had a chance to meet with Cooke -- who remains incarcerated and still faces a possible death penalty if convicted -- but expects they will do so as soon as his current trial in Superior Court wraps up.

    A jury convicted Cooke in 2007 and a judge sentenced him to death, but that result was overturned by a divided Delaware Supreme Court in 2009.

    In a 3-2 vote, the justices found that Cooke's first legal team -- public defenders Brendan O'Neill and Kevin O'Connell -- violated Cooke's rights when they ignored Cooke's wishes and pursued a defense of guilty but mentally ill, believing in their professional opinion that it was the best strategy to try to save Cooke's life.

    The justices ruled that it was a violation of Cooke's rights for the attorneys to enter a guilty plea over Cooke's explicit instructions.

    By contrast, Figliola, who has been a defense attorney in Delaware for more than 25 years, was involved in a case where an appeals court reached what appeared to be the opposite conclusion.

    In 2006, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a death sentence against Jack F. Outten Jr. -- in the 1992 beating death of William Mannon Jr. -- because Outten's trial attorneys, including Figliola, followed Outten's wishes and did not conduct a detailed investigation of Outten's background, including mental-illness issues, for the penalty phase of the trial.

    The appeals court ruled that Outten's attorneys had a professional responsibility to conduct that investigation and the failure to do so violated Outten's right to the effective assistance of counsel. The judges then sent Outten's case back to state court for a new penalty phase and resentencing.

    Outten has not yet been resentenced.

    At a hearing in December, Cooke made it clear he wanted strict limits on how his attorneys prepare for the penalty phase of his case -- should he be convicted a second time. Specifically, Cooke objected to an attempt by his second court-appointed legal team of Jennifer-Kate Aaronson and Patrick Collins to have him evaluated by a mental health professional.

    As a result of Cooke's refusal and his subsequent complaints and lawsuits, Aaronson and Collins asked to be let go from the case.

    http://www.delawareonline.com/articl...-Cooke-retrial

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    Judge to determine next week if Cooke can represent himself

    A hearing will be held next week to determine whether James E. Cooke can represent himself during his February retrial for the 2005 rape and murder of Lindsey Bonistall, raising concerns among some that he may turn the proceedings into a farce.

    Earlier this month, Cooke announced he wants to fire his third set of court-appointed attorneys, days after he filed a federal lawsuit against the pair.

    He is set to appear Wednesday before Superior Court Judge Charles H. Toliver IV, who will decide whether Cooke can proceed without an attorney even though he faces the death sentence if convicted.

    This means the often disruptive and combative Cooke would be able to deliver opening statements and closing arguments as well as cross-examine witnesses against him, including family and friends of Bonistall's.

    Last week, prosecutors and defense attorneys submitted memos to Toliver stating that under the law, Cooke has "an absolute right to represent himself."

    "You cannot force anyone to accept counsel; that is strictly unconstitutional," said retired Widener Law professor Tom Reed.

    Reed acknowledged that with Cooke at the helm of his own defense, the retrial "will be a circus; there is no doubt about that, because that is what he wants to have."

    "As an American citizen, you can do that," Reed said. "You can have a three-ring circus trial and make outrageous statements. But the judge will then admonish you and throw you out of the courtroom, and you will view the case from a room where the trial is being televised."

    Kathleen MacRae, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware, said this trial "seems a perfect example" of why the death-penalty system is broken.

    "The mentally ill should not be executed," she said. Even though Cooke was found competent to stand trial, "that does not mean he has the mental capacity or stability to represent himself at trial," she said.

    Debra Puglisi Sharp, a victims' advocate who was a victim of violent crime, said she hopes the court system will do whatever it can to prevent Cooke from questioning Bonistall's friends and family.

    http://www.delawareonline.com/articl...%7Ctext%7CHome

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