ALAMOSA — “Your attorney asked for a sentence that would give you a glimmer of hope. Quite frankly Mr. Cooper, I don’t think you deserve that,” District Judge Michael Gonzales told Lonnie Cooper, 44, when he sentenced him on Wednesday to 62 years in the Department of Corrections for the June 23, 2016 murder of Floyd Dale McBride, 52, and a 2015 drug charge.
The judge sentenced Cooper to 20 years on the drug charge and 42 years in prison on a second-degree murder charge involving the shooting death of McBride. The sentences will run consecutively for a total of 62 years.
Judge speaks to defendant, victims
The judge told Cooper these sentences were appropriate, given Cooper’s criminal record, which dates back to 1991. The murder and drug cases, to which Cooper pleaded guilty, make Cooper’s eighth and ninth felony convictions, Judge Gonzales pointed out. He said Cooper was the kind of person who should be taken out of the community and not allowed back.
Cooper had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder with an enhancer of crime of violence in connection with McBride’s 2016 death and possession with intent to distribute meth in connection with the 2015 drug case. Police found 116 grams of meth, 36 grams of heroin, 32 Oxycodone pills, 12 Robax pills, cash and a security system, which indicated “you were engaged in the business of selling drugs and that you took that business very seriously,” the judge said.
The judge addressed a statement made by one of the people testifying on Cooper’s behalf that if he were taken out as a drug dealer, there would be 10 others to take his place. Judge Gonzales said while that might be true, he wanted to send a message to all of them that if they were caught selling drugs in this community, they would pay a price.
Judge Gonzales said the pre-sentence report on Cooper did not paint a very good picture but instead gave the history of someone who since 1991 had been in and out of the judicial system for numerous crimes including harassment, weapons, theft, drug and other charges in the San Luis Valley and other Colorado counties.
Family members of both the defendant and the victim spoke to the judge, and McBride’s mother was present via telephone during the three-hour sentencing hearing Wednesday morning.
Judge Gonzales referred to multiple friends and family members of Cooper whose testimonies were compiled in a video presented by Cooper’s attorneys during the sentencing. They said Cooper had a rough upbringing but was trying to better himself and had become a hard working person who was generous and caring, especially to family and friends. His older sister, for example, said he was someone who was there for her when she was going through tough times. They described him as loyal to his family and protective of his family. Some of the videotaped witnesses said if McBride had not hurt Cooper’s son, he would still be alive.
(The McBride shooting was believed to be retaliation for McBride’s stabbing of one of Cooper’s sons earlier that same morning.)
Judge Gonzales said he had no doubt that Cooper’s family and friends saw him as they described him, but that is not the person he viewed him to be.
“I see a different person simply because of what’s in these reports,” the judge said.
Judge Gonzales also referred to testimony from McBride’s daughters and mother who talked about the pain and anguish they had endured since his death.
Judge Gonzales said that each family has entered a new chapter in the book of their lives. For Cooper, he will move on to a different type of life but will be able to continue with his life.
“For Mr. McBride, his book has ended. You closed that book. You closed it forcibly and in a horrible fashion,” Judge Gonzales told Cooper.
McBride will not be alive to walk his daughters down the aisle or see the grandchildren he might have someday, the judge said. He addressed McBride’s family and said there was nothing he could do or say to make it better, but he encouraged them to remember the good things about their father and the love he had for them.
“Hold those feelings deep in your soul,” the judge told his daughters. “Don’t think about how he died … Think about the good things.”
The judge said if the Coopers had reported McBride as causing Brian Cooper’s stabbing, he would have been standing in front of the judge for his actions, but the Coopers did not do that. Within 20 minutes or so from the time Lonnie Cooper arrived at the hospital where his son had been taken after the stabbing, he left again to seek revenge. Judge Gonzales said if Lonnie Cooper had been the kind of father defense witnesses described him as, he would have stayed with his son in the hospital, especially since witnesses had described Brian Cooper as looking gray from loss of blood when he came in.
Instead, however, Cooper decided to exact revenge and did the same thing to McBride, who bled to death from his wounds because he had no one to get him to the hospital or get help for him.
“Mr. McBride had not one friend amongst you,” Judge Gonzales told Cooper. “That’s the kind of man you are. That’s the kind of father you are, from my perspective.”
The judge told Cooper he not only took a life but degraded that person by wrapping his body in a rug or blanket and chicken wire and burying him in a hole, and then digging him up and burying him again in another hole.
“That’s heinous,” Gonzales said. “That’s as morally low as you can get.”
Cooper addresses court
Lonnie Cooper apologized for his actions in the drug case and said he had no excuse except for trying to give his boys everything. He just did it the wrong way, he said.
Regarding McBride, Cooper said, “Yes I did go into that house to confront Dale. Absolutely I did. No I did not plan to kill him.”
Cooper said he did not walk into the house with a gun but got into a struggle with McBride over it, and “it was my hands on it when it went off. I fired the gun.”
Cooper said McBride died less than 15 minutes later at Ninth and La Due when he was on the way to the hospital. (This was not the version other witnesses had stated or that the prosecution presented.)
Cooper said when McBride died, “panic set in,” and he made the wrong decision to bury McBride rather than report the incident.
“I take full responsibility for Dale’s death and everything that happened afterward,” he said.
Cooper apologized to his family and friends, the court and community and to McBride’s family, “especially his mother.”
“I go to bed every night with pain in my soul for what I have done to you and your family.”
In addition to playing a video with friends and family members testifying on Cooper’s behalf, the defense played a videotaped interview with a physician in Colorado Springs who stated that the kind of injury McBride suffered would have caused him to bleed out in 15-30 minutes and there was a high probability he would not have made it to the hospital.
Daughters speak of loss
McBride’s two daughters spoke during the sentencing. Melissa McBride said, “Lonnie Cooper has taken a piece of my heart, a piece of my life.”
She said she had talked to her father often and missed that.
“Who am I going to go to when I need to talk?” she asked.
“Who is going to walk me down the aisle? Who is going to be my kids’ grandpa? There’s so much taken away from me. It didn’t have to end this way.”
She said her father was missing for almost three months before the truth came out about what had happened and his body was found. She said she could not understand how people could do what they did or watch it happen.
She said she hoped Cooper spent the rest of his life behind bars because that’s what he deserved for the suffering he caused.
Her sister Mika added, “It’s just a horrible feeling knowing I will never be able to call dad and talk to him.”
She added, “I just loved him so much. It’s unimaginable that he’s really gone. It’ just been really hard living without him. I just wish we could see him one more time.”
DA shares mother’s letter
Assistant District Attorney Ashley McCuaig read a statement from Dale’s mother Betty Curran, 73, who talked about the emotional and physical suffering she had endured since her son’s disappearance and death. She said, “A whole bunch of cowards killed my son” because no one helped him or tried to save him. She said she struggles to make it through every day.
“My anger and pain will never end,” she said.
“I want revenge for my son’s death. I want those cowards to pay dearly for what they have done to my son.”
She added, “My life has changed. Dale’s life has ended … Dale will have no more birthdays, no more holidays, no more family reunions, no more opportunity to tell his daughters how much he loved them.”
McCuaig then read a list of more than 40 names of individuals and businesses who had been victims, sometimes more than once, of Lonnie Cooper’s, ending with the names of McBride’s mother and daughters. He said these are just the names of victims since Cooper’s first felony in 1993. He has had 22 felony cases, McCuaig said, 10 of which were violent in nature.
McCuaig said Cooper’s parole officer had said “Lonnie had an eerie and uncomfortable obsession with guns,” and when he was arrested for drugs, seven guns were found in the house, bearing that out. It was therefore no surprise that this crime against McBride involved a gun.
McCuaig described Cooper as a drug dealer and thug whose own sons said he was not a very nice guy. McCuaig recounted the details of the McBride murder from the time Cooper left his son Brian at the hospital and tried to elude police who were following him, to when he found McBride and shot him. He then let him bleed to death — “He let Dale die in his driveway,” McCuaig added.
McCuaig said the doctor who performed the autopsy on McBride said he probably would have survived if he had been taken to the hospital within an hour after the shooting.
McCuaig recommended 48 years in prison on the murder charge.
“He should not be a part of this community.”