BANGOR – Jurors had an intense and emotional day as the double-murder trial of a New Gloucester man got under way Tuesday with a tour of the Dexter crime scene and testimony from the sister of one murder victim and the mother of the other.
After hearing opening arguments from Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese and defense attorney William Maselli at Penobscot County Superior Court, jurors were loaded onto a bus and taken to Dexter where they went through the house where 20-year-old Mindy Gould and 21-month-old Treven Cunningham were killed two years ago.
Later in the day, jurors heard from 36-year-old Melanie Bragg, Gould’s sister, who owns the Dexter home and who found the bodies on her bed on Dec. 3, 1999.
Cassie Cunningham, Treven’s mother, also testified, recalling the moment shortly after her son’s birth in 1998 when Jeffrey Cookson, then the boyfriend of her best friend, cradled the newborn in his arms. She later described the events of the day the toddler was killed.
Cookson, 38, is accused of murdering Gould and Cunningham, who were alone in Bragg’s Church Street home the morning of the murders. Gould, who was baby-sitting Treven that morning, was trying to end a three-year relationship with Cookson and had obtained a protection from abuse order against him just days before she and Cunningham were shot to death “execution style.”
Maselli continued to stress Tuesday that Cookson had consistently maintained his innocence and told jurors Tuesday that Cookson was sleeping at his brother’s Guilford home when the murders occurred. He told jurors Cookson did not have time to commit the murders and suggested his client also did not have possession of the gun prosecutors say was used to kill Gould and Cunningham.
The gun never was recovered, but ballistic evidence will show that the gun did belong to Cookson, according to Marchese, who told jurors that a shell casing taken from the ground on Cookson’s New Gloucester property matched the shell casings found at the murder scene.
After jurors arrived in Dexter at about 11:30 a.m., a court officer led them on a brief tour that started in the parking lot of the Armory where prosecutors claim that Cookson often parked to watch Bragg’s home where Gould was living the weeks before she died.
With Justice Roland Cole, Marchese and Maselli maintaining a distance, the jurors were led by a court officer down Lakeview Avenue and across Church Street to the two-story gray home where the killings took place. Jurors took a tour of the home that lasted about five minutes.
They then were shown the back of the house and led a short distance along Church Street to a small dirt road that led to an abandoned railroad bed that runs behind the home. Jurors walked along the dirt path being instructed to look at the house from the railroad bed.
The path curved back up to Route 7 behind the Dexter Redemption Center and Agway and jurors were told by the court officer to make note of the redemption center and the Dexter Fire Department located nearby.
Cookson declined to attend the crime scene tour.
Jurors then were returned to the Bangor courtroom where Bragg took the stand. There are more than 70 witnesses expected to testify during the trial that could last well into next week.
Wearing a light-blue dress shirt, dark slacks and a dark-blue tie, Cookson showed no emotion as Bragg described to jurors how she found Treven and Gould lying face down on her bed with pillows over their heads. Both died of bullet wounds to the head.
“I looked in my room and could see their feet on the bed,” Bragg testified, her voice shaking with emotion. “They were lying face down with pillows over their heads. The pillows had [circular] black marks on them. … I lifted the pillows off their heads. I knew they were gone.”
Bragg said Cookson had been stalking Gould and had threatened her in the days prior to the murders. Gould had moved in with Bragg a few weeks before.
On Tuesday, Bragg said family and friends made sure Gould was never alone and that the sisters even slept together on the couch because Gould was too afraid to sleep in a bed upstairs.
But on the morning of Friday, Dec. 3, 1999, everyone needed to go to work and Gould was left alone. Gould had offered to baby-sit for Treven while Cunningham went to work at a nearby nursing home.
Gould and Cunningham grew up together and had remained best friends throughout their lives, Cunningham testified.
Treven was dropped off at the home at 8:25 a.m. according to Marchese, who acknowledged Cookson’s window of opportunity to commit the murders was narrow.
Investigators know Cookson made phone calls from his brother’s Guilford home at 9:11 a.m. that day, meaning that he would have had 45 minutes to commit the murders and drive back to Guilford. The two towns are located approximately 13 miles apart.
But Marchese maintained Tuesday that Cookson had the time, the opportunity, the motive and the weapon.
“His gun caused their deaths,” Marchese told jurors. “The baby’s mother had testified against him at a [protection from abuse] hearing days before. These were crimes of anger, hostility and revenge.”
Maselli, however, said the trial would not prove his client guilty, but instead show he is innocent and said the state had shaped circumstantial evidence to fit its own theory.
“There is not a single piece of physical evidence that links Jeff Cookson to these crimes,” Maselli told jurors.
Testimony resumes at 9 a.m. today.