One-time 'Public Enemy No. 1' gets 50 years in prison after state asks for wrong sentence

Baltimore prosecutors got what they asked for when a judge sentenced a one-time "Public Enemy No. 1" to life in prison with all but 50 years suspended for opening fire in a West Baltimore shopping center and wounding two elderly siblings.

Except the state's attorney's office said afterward that it meant to ask for the maximum sentence of life plus 50 years, having argued that Carl Cooper had been convicted of similar crimes twice previously and had not learned a lesson.

After Chief Judge Alfred Nance imposed the sentence, Assistant State's Attorney Otis Freeman said he had misspoke.

"I can't go back and change what you argued," Nance told Freeman. "The sentence was given as requested."

The difference may not matter to Cooper, 38, whose attorney argued for life with all but 25 years suspended and said that due to his poor health, anything more likely would result in him dying in prison.

The shooting occurred Feb. 22, 2016, in the 3400 block of Clifton Ave. Two victims, siblings in their 80s and 90s, were shot in the legs. Police dubbed Cooper "Public Enemy No. 1," and he was arrested two weeks later by U.S. marshals in Fayetteville, N.C.

Police subsequently disclosed that Cooper was identified as the suspect with the help of a surveillance plane flying high above the city, the use of which was not disclosed until months after it was featured in a magazine article. The program had been kept secret in part because it was funded through private donations handled by a nonprofit, and police argued that the technology was helping solve crimes.

Prosecutors did not use the aerial footage in court.

Instead, Cooper was identified by his own wife and street-level surveillance cameras, attorneys said in court Thursday.

Cooper was convicted by a jury in March of one count of attempted first-degree murder for shooting at a person who remains unknown, but which prosecutors said was captured on camera.

Jurors acquitted Cooper of attempted murder for the shootings of the older victims, with jurors instead convicting him of first-degree assault for causing their injuries. He also was convicted of handgun-related offenses.

Before being sentenced, Cooper stood up and asked Nance to give him a new trial, arguing the evidence presented at trial did not support a conviction. Nance denied the request.

Cooper had two prior convictions, in 1995 and 2003, in Prince George's County. In the first case, he was convicted of assault with intent to murder and a handgun charge. Then in the second, he was convicted of attempted second-degree murder.

Freeman argued Cooper's involvement in another such incident showed he was "willing to go back to jail and jeopardize people's lives who were innocent." The victims "were not killed, but their lives have been forever changed," he said.

Cooper hung his head through most of the hearing. Given the chance to speak, he said the state wanted to "paint me as an animal or some kind of monster. That's not me."

Public defender Jill Trivas said Cooper had a "soft side, a kind side, a gentle side" that she had observed while representing him.

"I truly don't think he has a bad heart," she said. "I don't think he meant for any of this to happen."

Cooper told Nance that before the shooting, a man had come around a corner at the shopping center with a mask over his face and a gun in hand. Trivas said Cooper "must have felt that his life was in danger."

Nance was not moved.

"We truly are taken aback by the betrayal of the defendant as to him being the victim on the date in question," Nance said.

He said that even if Cooper was acting to protect himself, he "placed the whole neighborhood and community in danger."

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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