Accessory plea taken in murder case
ALAMOSA — In line with an agreement his father Lonnie Cooper made in the 2016 murder case of Floyd Dale McBride, Devin Cooper on Monday pleaded guilty to felony accessory to a crime, for which he will likely be granted probation.
District Judge Michael Gonzales accepted Devin Cooper’s plea and scheduled his sentencing for October 25, the same day his father is scheduled to be sentenced for second-degree murder.
Devin Cooper, 19, whose jury trial had initially been scheduled for last week, pleaded guilty on Monday to the part he played in the McBride murder, for which several Cooper family members and other codefendants had been charged. Last month Lonnie Cooper, 43, admitted to being the one who shot McBride, 52, who ultimately bled to death last June. Lonnie Cooper’s plea agreement included resolutions to the cases against his wife and two sons, including Devin.
Devin Cooper was initially charged with more than a dozen counts including conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree assault, conspiracy to commit second-degree kidnapping, manslaughter and tampering with physical evidence. The district attorney’s office added first-degree murder to Devin Cooper’s charges in May.
Attorneys described Devin Cooper’s involvement in the McBride murder as: being present at the hospital early the morning of June 23, 2016, when Devin’s brother Brian was treated after being stabbed by McBride and when plans may have begun to take revenge against McBride for the stabbing; holding witnesses in a shed against their will; driving the van away where McBride had been held against his will after he was shot (and where he bled to death), presumably after McBride succumbed to his injuries; helping to bury McBride’s body in Conejos County; and later helping to dig up the body and rebury it in a location in Costilla County.
Devin Cooper was not present when McBride was actually shot.
Devin Cooper’s attorney Guillermo Garibay argued that his client had acted out of fear of his father, which he said was a recurring motive with other codefendants as well.
Garibay said for some time there was no relationship between Devin and his father, but when Devin was about 16 and getting into drugs, the probation department moved him into his father’s house because his mother could not control him. Garibay said Lonnie Cooper was emotionally and physically abusive to his son, and Devin was afraid of his father, which was the reason Devin did what he was told in this situation.
“He was acting under duress,” Garibay said.
Assistant District Attorney Ashley McCuaig agreed that Devin Cooper acted under the influence of his father, “a very violent citizen.” Removing Lonnie Cooper from the picture, “Devin Cooper presents a significantly less threat,” McCuaig told the judge.
Garibay told Judge Gonzales that as part of the agreement Lonnie Cooper set up for his son, Devin Cooper would plead guilty to felony accessory to a crime and receive 4-5 years probation, if the judge approved it. If Devin Cooper violated the terms of his probation during that time, and his probation were revoked, he would be resentenced in the aggravated sentencing range, which would be up to 12 years in prison. The aggravating circumstance, Garibay explained, would relate to McBride being alive for a time in the vehicle in which he was detained and Devin Cooper not doing anything to prevent his death.
McCuaig added that Devin Cooper needed to be accountable for his actions, or in this case inaction in not taking steps to help McBride as he slowly died.
McCuaig said the plea agreement requires Devin Cooper to make a statement at the time of sentencing regarding his actions in this case.
McCuaig told Judge Gonzales one of the reasons the DA’s office was willing to enter this plea agreement with Devin Cooper was this agreement was similar to what would have been offered Devin Cooper had he been willing to testify against his father in this case.
Judge Gonzales said it was important to lay out the reasons for accepting this plea agreement because he was concerned about the message that a probationary sentence would make in a case in which death occurred.
The judge asked if the victim’s family had been contacted regarding Devin Cooper’s plea. McCuaig said the family certainly wanted the harshest punishment — “while they will never be whole, while their son and their father will never come back” — they also recognized some people in this case were more culpable than others and were satisfied with the disposition of Devin Cooper’s case. McCuaig said McBride’s family members would be present for the Cooper family sentencings in October and would address the court.
Judge Gonzales told Devin Cooper the normal range for sentencing for the crime to which he was pleading guilty was 2-6 years in the Department of Corrections and up to 12 years under aggravating circumstances. A sentence to probation is part of the plea agreement, the judge added. If the judge ultimately decides the probationary sentence would not be appropriate, however, Devin Cooper will have the chance to withdraw his plea, Judge Gonzales told him.
Devin Cooper also pleaded guilty on Monday to a misdemeanor theft charge in an unrelated case dating to April 5, 2016 and involving the discovery of a stolen gun in Devin Cooper’s room during a drug bust. In that case, Judge Gonzales sentenced Devin Cooper to 180 days jail, with credit for time served. The judge also dismissed two traffic cases.
In addition, Judge Gonzales reduced Devin Cooper’s bond in the felony case from $500,000 to $5,000 with conditions including pretrial tracking, intensive supervision, GPS monitoring, regular UA’s, no contact with codefendants and other conditions. Garibay had requested a PR bond, but neither McCuaig nor Judge Gonzales believed that was appropriate because they said Cooper needed to remain under strict supervision while on bond, just as he would ultimately be under probation.
Gonzales told Devin Cooper that the offer he accepted was an opportunity for him to make the right choices with his life, and he was lucky to be given that kind of chance, especially in this type of case.