Autopsy: Nancy Cooper Strangled

Nancy Cooper died of "homicidal violence," medical examiner says.

Sept. 30, 2008 — -- A woman whose body was found this summer in a partially developed subdivision near her North Carolina home probably died of strangulation, an autopsy report has found.

Nancy Cooper, a 34-year-old mother of two, died of "homicidal violence," the report, released late Monday, says. Medical examiners found a faint mark near her throat.

No arrests have been made in the case, although the police investigation has apparently focused on Cooper's husband, Brad Cooper. Days after Cooper's body was found, according to court records, police searched Brad Cooper's computers to see whether he had looked up how to dispose of a dead body.

His lawyers have said he is innocent and earlier this month released evidence in an effort to prove that Cooper was not involved in his wife's murder. Cooper has said that his wife went running July 12 and never came home.

Nancy Cooper's body, clothed only in a sports bra, was found two days later in a drainage ditch a few miles from her Cary, N.C., home. Medical examiners tested her body for evidence of sexual assault, although the autopsy report did not include the results of their examination. ABC News affiliate WTVD reported that police said there was no evidence of sexual assault.

Garry Rentz, Cooper's father, said in a statement late Monday, "The journey to truth and justice can be long and arduous. Today's news marks a point that is particularly poignant and painful but necessary to further the evidentiary process leading to a conviction of the person or persons responsible for Nancy's murder."

Rentz and Brad Cooper are fighting over permanent custody of the couple's two daughters. A judge awarded Rentz and his wife temporary custody of the children and is scheduled to decide next month who will have permanent custody.

The ongoing murder investigation complicates the custody case. Wake Court District Court Judge Debra Sasser will have to decide whether Cooper is a danger to his children and may have to consider whether he killed his wife.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, Sasser said during a court hearing Monday, "I am not going to avoid the elephant in the room: Did Brad Cooper kill his wife?"

"That's what I have to determine in this custody case if no one is charged and convicted in Nancy Cooper's death before the custody hearing."

Earlier this month, his lawyers released store surveillance footage, receipts and photographs, which they said showed that Cooper was not involved in his wife's death.

"It is our goal to restore reason to what has become an unreasonable and persecutory situation," Cooper's lawyers, Howard Kurtz and Seth Blum, said in a statement on their Web site.