BANGOR – Under some of the tightest security ever put in place at the Penobscot County Courthouse, a jury Thursday declared a 38-year-old Dover-Foxcroft man guilty of the execution style slayings of a 20-year-old Dexter woman and the 21-month-old toddler for whom she was baby-sitting.
Jeffrey Cookson sat expressionless between his defense attorneys as the verdict was read at about 11:30 a.m. after 13 hours of deliberations over two days.
The families of the victims who filled the courtroom to capacity sobbed and several jurors choked up as the forewoman told the court that Cookson was guilty of both murders.
Cookson remains held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail where he has been incarcerated since two weeks after the Dec. 3, 1999, murders. Attorney William Maselli of Auburn said an appeal is under consideration.
A sentencing date has been set for Feb. 1 and Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese said the state would consider seeking a sentence of life in prison. Under Maine’s truth in sentencing law, life in prison actually means the defendant will not get out of prison, since the state has no parole.
Evidence showed that Cookson began to aggressively stalk Mindy Gould in November 1999 after she ended a three-year relationship with him. She had obtained a permanent protection-from-abuse order against him three days before the murders. She had been living with her sister’s family on Church Street in Dexter and was baby-sitting for Treven Cunningham, her best friend’s son, when the murders occurred.
Both died face down on Gould’s sister’s bed. Their heads were covered with pillows and they both died of single gunshot wounds to the head, with a gun that belonged to Cookson. The gun, a 9 mm Taurus, was never recovered.
Emotions ran high throughout the 11/2-week-long trial and court security dealt with several reports of threats from both the defendant’s and victims’ families, according to Sgt. Al Jamison, court security supervisor.
A few observers had to be banned from the courtroom during the proceedings, he said.
In light of his concern, Jamison borrowed security officers from other Penobscot County courthouses to help with security throughout the trial and on Thursday he brought in Bangor police, Penobscot County sheriff deputies and the state police to help secure the courthouse during the delivery of the verdict.
Parking lots were blocked off by multiple cruisers and Bangor police surrounded the perimeter of the building. Inside, a variety of officers and court security officers stood guard at every corner and entryway in the courtroom.
Officials were most concerned that there could be big trouble if the verdict had been not guilty.
Cassie Cunningham, the young mother of Treven Cunningham, wept openly and hugged her mother, stepfather and grandmother who had sat in the front row since the trial began on Monday, Nov. 26.
Gould’s sister, Melanie Bragg Tasker, said outside the courthouse, “Justice has been done. Two years was a long wait, but justice has been done.”
Art Jette of Garland, Treven Cunningham’s step-grandfather, said the family was relieved.
“This was the best possible result for us. You can’t say you’re happy or glad because this has been the most tragic event you can imagine, but the world is going to be a better place without Jeff Cookson in it,” he said. “We live with this nightmare every day. I don’t think Jeff Cookson knew that when he ended Mindy and Treven’s lives that he also ended his own.”
The jury began deliberating at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday and was sent home for the night at 10:30 p.m. They arrived at the courthouse at 8:30 am. Thursday and asked to have a court reporter read back the testimony of Cassie Cunningham.
Two hours later they signaled that they had reached a verdict. Though the 13-hour deliberations were “torture” for family members of the victims, Marchese said that considering that jurors had the testimony of more than 80 witnesses to consider and 100 exhibits to look at, the deliberations were not unexpected.
“They obviously gave this a lot of thoughtful consideration and based their decision on the evidence and not emotion which is what we, of course, want them to do,” she said.
Maselli, however, suggested that the verdict was based on emotion, noting that the verdict came back after jurors heard “emotionally-based” testimony from the baby’s mother.
“We are disappointed. … Jeff is shattered by the verdict,” he said. “He continues to maintain his innocence.”
Marchese echoed Jette’s statements saying that it is a relief to know that Jeff Cookson is “no longer eligible to walk the streets of Maine.”
Cookson is “evil beyond words,” she said.
Marchese also was affected by the emotions of the case and following the verdict, embraced and cried with Cunningham and Bragg Tasker.
For days, dozens of family members have been camped out at the courthouse, dealing with fatigue, anger and emotional ups and downs. Hallways have been filled with either subdued, anxious or sobbing family members.
On Thursday afternoon after the media, lawyers, police officers and family members had gone, a small trail of crumpled, wet tissues led to the courthouse doorways.
“This verdict gives us a sense of security that we have not had in a long time,” Jette said before he headed back to his Garland home with his family. “But nothing brings Treven or Mindy back. … I’ve suffered death in my lifetime, but murder is something else. You just can’t believe that someone could do this.”
Cookson was led handcuffed and shackled through a rear door back to Penobscot County Jail under tight security.