Attorney says publicity might affect trial of double murder suspect

Posted Dec. 23, 1999, at 1:07 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 24, 2010, at 1:11 p.m.

BANGOR — A Newport attorney says it will be difficult to find an impartial jury for his client, accused murderer Jeffrey Cookson, because of pretrial publicity.

Attorney Dale Thistle said Wednesday that the media exposure to the double murders and Cookson’s arrest could prevent his client from getting a fair trial.

“I have to believe it will be difficult to find an impartial jury in Penobscot County,” Thistle said Wednesday, during an interview at his Newport office.

Asked if he would seek a change of venue for a trial, Thistle put his hands in the air and said, “Where would I go?”

Cookson, who has been charged with the Dec. 3 shooting deaths of Mindy Gould, Cookson’s ex-girlfriend, and Treven Cunningham, the 21-month toddler Gould had been baby-sitting, is being held in the Penobscot County Jail pending a bail hearing next month. The shootings occurred at Gould’s residence in Dexter. Cookson has maintained his innocence.

After reviewing a copy of an arrest affidavit filed by the Maine State Police that was released Tuesday, Thistle said he found nothing startling that would have prompted Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese to push for its impoundment. The only thing he could suggest was that Marchese literally meant what she said Monday at Cookson’s initial court appearance in Bangor, that there was a need to keep the people named in the document from reading the conversations police had with others.

Marchese could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Although the arrest affidavit has become public, two search warrants executed last week at Cookson’s parents’ home and his brother’s residence, both in Guilford, have not been made public. A clerk at Newport District Court said Tuesday that the search warrants were impounded by authorities. Thistle was unaware of the impoundment.

“I think there was probable cause [for Cookson's arrest], yes, but I think it’s slim right now,” Thistle said, regarding the evidence against his client. The arrest stemmed mostly from statements made earlier by Gould, who had received a restraining order against Cookson a few days before her death and that of Cunningham’s, he said.

The attorney said he believed that the arrest was based on circumstantial evidence and that the state had a long way to go to get a conviction. The distance between probable cause and proof beyond a reasonable doubt is wide, Thistle said.

The affidavit states that police found two 9 mm Winchester Luger shell casings and two gold-colored 9 mm bullets in the Dexter home where the murders occurred. The gold-colored bullets are a new product and are not common. The murders are believed to have occurred close to 8:20 a.m., according to the court document.

Melanie Bragg, whom Gould was living with at 136 Church St., told police that her sister had been harassed by Cookson since she had left the New Gloucester man earlier. She told a Maine State Police detective that her sister was “terrified of Cookson.”

The affidavit also reveals that Dexter police were called to the Church Street home numerous times because of Cookson’s harassment of Gould.

Another person interviewed by police reported that Cookson had videotaped Gould and had placed a listening device on her window as part of his surveillance of her.

Police also noted in the affidavit that Roland Cookson told them that his brother, Jeffrey Cookson, had been home the morning of the murder and had seen his brother leave at 9 a.m. But Roland Cookson’s telephone records obtained by police show that five calls were made from Cookson’s house to his brother’s pager between 7 and 9 a.m. Friday. A clerk at a local convenience store in Dover-Foxcroft reported that Jeffrey Cookson had visited the store between 6 and 8 a.m. on Dec. 3.

Police were told by one individual that Cookson always carried a 9 mm handgun on his person because he carried so much cash with him. In fact, when police arrested him, they found about $18,000 in his vehicle.

“I think there’s much more evidence than they’ve put in there,” said Thistle. He expects that he will receive all the discovery police have uncovered as the trial proceeds.

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