Ex-boyfriend held in connection with slayings

Posted Dec. 18, 1999, at 12:57 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 24, 2010, at 12:59 p.m.

GUILFORD, Maine — A New Gloucester man was arrested early Friday morning and charged with the Dec. 3 murders of his ex-girlfriend and a toddler she had been baby-sitting at 136 Church St. in Dexter.

Jeffrey Cookson, 36, was charged with killing Mindy Gould, 20, and Treven Jacob Cunningham, 21 months, with a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun. He will make his initial court appearance on the two counts of murder in Bangor on Monday.

Cookson was handcuffed shortly after 6 a.m. Friday and whisked to the Penobscot County Jail after police surrounded and secured the Route 15 home of his parents, where the man had been temporarily staying.

He remained in jail Friday night pending his initial appearance in 3rd District Court. Because the charge is murder, a judge must administer a bail hearing, according to jail officials.

“There is some relief in knowing that an arrest has been made,” Art Jette, stepgrandfather of the murdered toddler, said Friday. Treven Cunningham was the son of Cassie Cunningham, Gould’s good friend. Jette said the families of Mindy and Treven are still grieving, but that they are confident that the Maine State Police had done a thorough and excellent job.

Residents in the town, too, expressed relief that someone had been apprehended for the slayings. Dexter Police Chief David Clukey said Friday that the killings had greatly disturbed the community.

Soon after Cookson’s arrest Friday, a large contingent of police officers from throughout the state began searching the Route 15 home owned by his stepfather, Melvin Judkins, and his mother, Shirley Judkins, and another residence on the Wharf Road owned by Cookson’s brother, Roland Cookson.

Police had hoped to prevent a violent outburst from Jeff Cookson by arriving early in the morning and removing him from the Guilford residence without advance notice, according to Lt. Darrell Ouellette, spokesman for the Maine State Police.

As police surrounded the small brown, ranch-style bungalow, a cellular telephone call was placed from outside the home to Cookson inside asking that he surrender peacefully. Cookson did not resist arrest and came out of the home. The warrant for his arrest had been obtained by police on Thursday evening.

“We’re confident that all the evidence points to Mr. Cookson and that he acted alone,” Ouellette said Friday.

The large amount of evidence police have uncovered includes prior statements made by Gould that Cookson had harassed and stalked her, leading her to obtain a restraining order a few days before her death. But the most significant evidence that caused police to make the arrest came after tests were done on shell casings found at the murder scene and those obtained from the previous owners of a semiautomatic traced to Cookson.

Ouellette said police tracked down the person who sold the gun to Cookson and were able to obtain shell casings from that individual. Those shell casings matched the shell casings found at the murder scene, he said. The gun, which police believe Cookson owned for a year or two, has not yet been recovered, but police are hopeful they will find the weapon.

On Friday, more than a dozen law enforcement officials, including those from state police, the state Fire Marshal’s Office, Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department, Dexter and Dover-Foxcroft police departments, the Violent Crimes Task Force and Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, all wearing warm clothing, gathered at the Judkins home for the arrest and the subsequent search of the home.

Officers were observed going in and out of the house during the search, some removing materials taken from the building. A Christmas wreath adorned the side of the building and inside, a decorated Christmas tree could be seen through a picture window.

When the search of the Judkins home was concluded at about 8:30 a.m., the convoy of marked and unmarked police cars drove a short distance on Route 15, turned onto the Sebec Shores Road and then onto the Wharf Road, where they conducted a search of property owned by Roland Cookson.

Roland Cookson, who operates R&K Repair Used Auto and Parts on the Wharf Road, greeted the police when they arrived. Wearing an orange hunter’s hat and a flannel shirt with the tip end of a portable telephone sticking out his shirt pocket, Cookson stood outside for much of the morning and watched as police conducted the search of his property. That search included sifting through many junked vehicles located there.

Ouellette said the investigation would continue and that a search had been conducted more than a week ago at Jeff Cookson’s home in New Gloucester. He said some ballistics evidence was taken from Cookson’s southern Maine home and that those materials were being analyzed.

Additionally, DNA samples and fingerprints taken from the murder scene were being analyzed and tested, according to Ouellette. He declined to say whether Gould had been molested prior to her death.

Cookson has a police record, according to Ouellette. He said Cookson had committed two or three misdemeanors in the past, one of which included violation of a protection order. Gould, who left southern Maine after ending a relationship with Cookson and who had recently moved into the Dexter home with her sister, Melanie Bragg, and Alan LaFountain, wasn’t the only woman who sought protection from Cookson.

According to court records, Jennifer Cotton of Norway, Maine, who had a child with Cookson, filed a protection order on Nov. 30, 1994, in South Paris District Court against Cookson.

Cookson has maintained his innocence since the double homicide. Contacted at his brother’s home earlier this week, Cookson said the media would “eat their words” on any alleged connection he had with the murders. “The truth is going to come out in the end,” he said, declining to speak further.

Attorney Dale Thistle of Newport, who represents Cookson, said his client is innocent and that he believes a third party was involved in the killings. “I don’t believe for a minute that my client did it,” Thistle said earlier this week.

Thistle could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon because he was visiting Cookson at the Penobscot County Jail, according to a clerk at his Newport office.

Thistle said this week that he believed someone other than Cookson was involved and that that person was aware that the attention would be diverted to Cookson because of the restraining order. Cookson would be the No. 1 candidate in an event like this, he said. The suspect hasn’t tried to run away and hide, Thistle pointed out.

Jeffrey Cookson’s own father, Roland Cookson Sr., was slain in the early 1980s. The father was shot in the face by his wife, Peggy Cookson, after Roland Cookson shot another man several times in the chest. That man, Wayne Doore, survived the attack, which took place in Doore’s home in Dover-Foxcroft.

Police say Gould’s murder could be classified as domestic violence-related. According to Ouellette, more than half of the 28 homicides in the state last year were domestic violence-related and it’s possible that figure may be higher this year. Of the last eight homicides in northern Maine, six were domestic violence-related, he said.

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