Bryan Cooke's fate remained in limbo Tuesday night after prosecutors presented two days of evidence he stabbed his in-laws, Gary and Gail Dodson, to death.
Jurors will begin deliberation Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. following two days of testimony in which prosecutors painted Cooke, 41, as a premeditated killer.
Prosecutors are asking jurors to find Cooke guilty of first-degree murder, while his defense is hoping for a conviction on lesser charges.
Prosecutors say Cooke carefully plotted the crime before breaking into his in-law’s Fairview home while they slept on the night of June 28, 2015.
“He snuck up to the couch where Gary Dodson was sleeping and plunged his blade 7 inches into the middle of his chest,” District Attorney General Lisa Zavogiannis told jurors, saying Cooke had stolen the knife from Walmart minutes before going to the Dodson residence. “There was no defense against his 8-inch chef’s blade. He stabbed him again, and again, and again.”
Forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Deering testified the knife literally ran through Mr. Dodson, hitting his spine as it plunged in nearly to the handle. The initial stab was accompanied by three other hacks to the chest and a defensive wound to Mr. Dodson’s hand where he had apparently grabbed the blade as it was pulling out of his chest.
“They were horizontal wounds,” the pathologist said. “It suggested he was lying down when they were inflicted.”
Prosecutors told jurors after Cooke stabbed Mr. Dodson to death, he went to the bedroom where he found Mrs. Dodson sleeping.
“He went to her room and aimed the blade for his mother-in-law’s heart,” Zavogiannis said, noting he also buried his first blow 7 inches into her chest. She was found lying dead against her bed while her husband was found lying dead in the living room floor next to the couch. Their bodies were found by their daughters and employees after Gary did not show up for work the next morning.
Investigators found Cooke’s car behind a shed and discovered the Dodsons' vehicle missing. Cooke was eventually found in Jacksonville, Fla., along with the stolen vehicle and about $800 cash lawmen believe he took from his in-laws.
Prosecutors pointed out Cooke left behind the clothes he was wearing when he killed his in-laws, leaving the bloody garments in a bathroom sink after changing into other clothes.
“There is DNA on the knife and on his clothing,” Zavogiannis said.
TBI forensic biologist Chad Johnson said Gary Dodson’s blood was found on Cooke’s shorts and Gail Dodson’s blood was on the killer’s underwear.
“There was DNA on the knife from both victims,” Johnson testified of the results of DNA tests on blood stains found at the scene.
For the defense, attorney Bud Sharp told jurors right off the bat his client was the one who killed the Dodsons.
“You’re going to convict him of something,” Sharp told the jury, pointing out that to convict his client of first-degree murder they would have to determine that he killed his in-laws intentionally and that he planned to do it.
However, the attorney said that given his client was under the influence of drugs and blacked out at the time, he could not have formed intent or planned the killings.
“He had no history of violence,” Sharp said, suggesting a cocktail of psychiatric drugs and his normal over-the-counter drugs caused a reaction that led to his blackout. “The law does not show sympathy. The law allows only for evidence and proof and if you are not able to form intent then you cannot be found guilty of the crime.”
His claim of Cooke’s blackouts was bolstered by the defendant’s ex-wife and daughter of the victims, Kelly Dodson, who testified her husband would disappear for days at a time and end up in other states without knowledge of how he got there. She said he stole money to buy his over-the-counter drugs he was addicted to, noting he became addicted to drugs after suffering a knee injury.
According to prosecutors:
• Bryan Cooke used a credit card to open the back door of the Dodson home.
• Gary Dodson was killed while he slept on a sofa in the living room.
• Gail Dodson was killed while she slept on a bed in the master bedroom.
• Cooke left his bloody clothes and the murder weapon in a bathroom.