Slain Jogger's Parents Win Custody Ruling

The family of the slain North Carolina mom won custody of her two kids.

Oct. 22, 2008 — -- The family of Nancy Cooper, who was found murdered more than three months ago near her home in North Carolina, won temporary custody today of her two daughters.

The daughters, 2-year-old Katie and 4-year-old Bella, have been living in Canada with Nancy Cooper's twin sister, Krista, and her parents, Garry and Donna Rentz, since their mother went missing July 12.

The girls will remain there until a subsequent hearing is held to determine permanent custody. A copy of the judge's ruling wasn't immediately available.

"We could not have asked for a more fair or deliberate process and are confident that she acted in the best interest of not just our grandchildren but all children who may be in a similar circumstance," the Rentzes said in a statement released by the police department in Cary, N.C.

Calls that made to lawyers for Cooper's husband, Brad Cooper, were not immediately returned.

Seth Blum, one of Cooper's attorneys, told ABC News affiliate WDTV reporter Ed Crump that his client is innocent is still deciding whether to appeal the custody decision.

Adding that his client misses his children, Blum told Crump that the hearing over full custody is a "different animal."

Wake Court District Judge Debra Sasser, who presided over the Cooper custody case, made it clear at the start of the hearing that the ongoing murder investigation would certainly play a role in her decision.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, Sasser said during the court hearing Sept. 29, "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."

Nancy Cooper's family and Brad Cooper, the girls' father, have been fighting over custody of the two kids since she was found strangled in an undeveloped subdivision July 14.

Her husband, Brad Cooper, may have been the last person to see Nancy and told police that his wife went jogging and never returned.

No arrests have been made in the case and Brad Cooper has not been named a person of interest, but family and friends of his wife have said they are convinced that he was involved.

Police investigating the July murder say that parts of the sworn testimony made by her husband earlier this month are "inconsistent" with the statements he made to authorities immediately after her death.

George G. Daniels, the lead detective in the Cary, N.C., murder case, said in a sworn affidavit filed Oct. 9 and obtained by, that not only did some of Brad Cooper's statements conflict with what he'd told investigators around the time of his wife's disappearance but that Cooper has stopped talking to police.

"Bradley Cooper has not fully cooperated with our investigation into the murder of Nancy Cooper and has not been willing to come to the police department to assist in the investigation and provide information despite formal requests from the Cary Police Department that he do so," said Daniels in the affidavit.

Daniels did not specify in the court papers what information provided by Brad Cooper was reportedly inconsistent.

Daniels didn't respond to a call seeking comment.

But in eight hours of videotaped sworn testimony given by Brad Cooper, 34, earlier this month for use in the custody hearing over the couple's two daughters, clips of which were viewed by, he asserted his desire to assist the investigation into his wife's murder.

"My primary focus [in the months since Nancy's murder] has been trying to get to see my girls again and helping in the investigation about Nancy," he says.

"I have answered every question [the police] have," Cooper says on the tape. Cops have visited his home at least five times since his wife's death, he said.

Jennifer Ball, Brad Cooper's former fiance, expressed doubts about him, according to an affidavit filed Oct. 13 in which she says he "constantly belittled" her and was "emotionally detached" and "mentally cruel."

Similar allegations of belittlement were made by Nancy Cooper's parents in a custody petition filed in July, according to court documents.

Brad Cooper "engaged in a pattern of emotional abuse," frequently yelled at Nancy Cooper and belittled her in the presence of the children, according to the petition.

In her affidavit Ball also said that when her relationship with Brad Cooper ended in December 1998, she "became fearful for her physical safety."

Brad Cooper's videotaped testimony -- the first time in more than three months that he has spoken on the record about his wife's murder -- gives details about where he was the morning of his wife's death. He also continues to maintain his innocence.

According to his testimony, Nancy Cooper went jogging at around 7 a.m. and when she hadn't returned almost two hours later he assumed that she was "punishing him" for not cleaning.

"I thought maybe she had been punishing me by not coming back because the floors weren't clean and weren't washed," he says.

"I washed the floors with hot water and vinegar," he says in the testimony. "I was trying to make her happy as best I could."

Asked by investigators whether he had ever visited the area where his wife's body was found, Brad Cooper said that he had not, adding that he didn't think she would run in that area.