A Superior Court judge last week denied a new trial to a Guilford man serving two life sentences for the 1999 execution-style slayings of his ex-girlfriend and the toddler she was babysitting.
Jeffrey Cookson, 55, of Guilford was convicted by a jury in December 2001 in Penobscot County Superior Court of murdering Mindy Gould, 20, and 21-month-old Treven Cunningham, both of Dexter. They died of gunshot wounds to the head and were shot through a pillow, court documents said. Their bodies were found on a bed in the home where Gould had gone to escape her abusive relationship with Cookson, according to trial testimony.
Justice Roland Cole, who presided over Cookson’s trial in December 2001 and sentenced him to a lifetime behind bars, on May 31 refused to grant Cookson a new trial based on DNA testing on a hair found in Gould’s hand. Cookson’s attorneys argued at a hearing last year that the results of that test eliminated their client as the killer because the hair was not Cookson’s.
Cole said he could not conclude that only the killer was the source of the hair as Cookson’s attorneys, Richard Hartley of Bangor and Karen Wolfram of Portland, maintained. The judge found there were several possible sources of the hair including anyone else who may have slept in the bed or lived in the house.
“Cookson has not shown by clear and convincing evidence that the hair in question could have belonged to no one but the perpetrator of the crimes,” Cole wrote. “Cookson argues that the hair could have come from no one but the perpetrator because there was evidence that a scuffle occurred in the home prior to the murders, apparently necessitating the conclusion that the hair belonged to the perpetrator and fell into MIndy’s hand during the scuffle.
“The record is simply absent of clear and convincing evidence that the hair was related to the murders at all, much less that it could have only come from the perpetrator,” the judge concluded.
Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber in an email Tuesday praised the judge’s decision.
“We are grateful to the court for the decision rejecting Jeff Cookson’s baseless claims,” he said. “It has been a long road, especially for the families of Mindy Gould and Treven Cunningham, but we are getting closer to the end of the line for Cookson. He will have the rest of his life in prison to think about the pain he has caused.”
A request for comment from Cookson’s attorneys was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Cookson, who is incarcerated at the Maine State Prison in Warren, is expected to appeal the ruling to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. It will be the fourth time the state’s high court has considered an appeal from Cookson.
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Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated the nature of the tests being sought. They are seeking a new trial as a result of the DNA test.