Justice Delayed: Suspect in 2016 murders on long waiting list for mental evaluation

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By ABC3340.  Written by Cynthia Gould

Hamilton, AL (WBMA) This Sunday marks three years since a gunman terrorized an Alabama community leaving two dead. The question remains is Jimmy Cooper a cold blooded killer or mentally ill?

Another mental evaluation has been ordered on Cooper as frustration and anger grows among the families of the victims. The I-Team investigated why so much time has passed and there is still not a trial date set for Cooper.

The murders on Feb 10th, 2016 would change so many lives forever. 61 year old Linda Cole and 67 year old Donnie Miller were shot to death in downtown Hamilton offices blocks apart.

Police arrested Cooper who was described as a former business partner of Miller’s and a former client at Cole’s accounting and tax firm. Cole was shot three times in the back as she pleaded for her life.

Her daughter, April Cagle, was also at the office that day. She tried to comfort her dying mother and performed CPR along with another person. “She was a loving human being,” said Cagle with tears in her eyes. She recalled her mother’s last breath: “She was gone; took Jesus by the hand.” Cole was a wife, mother and grandmother.

According to investigators Miller was shot first. Cooper arrived at a local law firm and waited for Miller to meet him some 45 minutes. Cooper then reportedly walked three blocks to Cole’s office, slipped inside and made his way to her office.

Officers cornered Cooper in a bank parking lot. “He was not going to surrender,” stated Marion County’s Sheriff later that day.

Three years later questions lingers as to whether Cooper is competent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity. His attorneys point to two prior mental commitments. They contend Cooper is unfit to stand trial.

Marion County Sheriff Kevin Williams disagrees saying, “In my opinion he is fit to stand trial. We’re ready to go to trial, prosecutors are ready for trial.” Sheriff Williams says there are facts he cannot divulge until trial, that indicate Cooper is not mentally ill.

Two months after the shootings, Cooper’s attorneys filed for an “emergency motion for mental evaluation.” Cooper spent nearly a year at Taylor Hardin Hospital in Tuscaloosa receiving treatment before being returned to the Marion County Jail.

Then in April of 2018, the judge ordered an evaluation of Cooper’s mental state at the time of offense and competency to stand trial. Families and prosecutors were told Cooper was number 30 on the waiting list.

Department of Mental Health General Counsel Tommy Klinner says more money, more space, and more forensic psychologists are needed to keep the system up to date. “It’s an Alabama problem, it’s a national problem,” explains Klinner.

Federal courts have ordered states to do better on mental health issues. “There are about twenty lawsuits across the country. We’re one of them. We’re not the worst and not the best. He’s (Cooper) not the only one that’s committed a heinous crime and on a waiting list,” remarks Klinner.

“What is so wrong in this system? Her life meant more than that,” questions Cagle.

ABC3340 News tried to reach Cooper’s attorneys for comment. Our calls were not returned.

Wednesday we were told Cooper has moved up to number nine on the waiting list for evaluation. He should be back at Taylor Hardin hospital within a month to be seen by a forensic psychiatrist.

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