NORFOLK -- Three young sailors from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush thought they had found a safe spot to play games on their laptops in the lobby outside a "mini" Naval Exchange on Naval Station Norfolk.
The Wi-Fi worked -- internet service is not great on the Bush. Also working was a surveillance camera that caught a masked man enter the lobby around 2 a.m. on Nov. 17, 2016, throw down a trash bag and demand the sailors put their cellphones and wallets inside, while pointing a handgun at the men.
But something else wasn't working: a surveillance camera pointed at a staircase leading to the building's second floor, where two port operations sailors, including Petty Officer 3rd Class Frederick Cooper Jr., were supposed to be pulling overnight duty.
In a three-day trial in Norfolk Circuit Court that relied heavily on surveillance camera footage and the lack thereof, a pair of gray sweatpants and a black ski mask, Cooper was found not guilty on charges that he left his duties and robbed those three sailors. But in a separate robbery later that same day, the jury found him guilty on felony charges that he robbed a man at gunpoint while wearing a mask, and on misdemeanor charges that he concealed the weapon and resisted arrest.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Katie Beye argued that Cooper, 31, had motive and opportunity in the first incident -- he had access to the base and promised money to his wife, from whom he had separated a week earlier. He also had stacked up a number of infractions on the job that showed he was willing to cut corners, she said.
But Defense Attorney Kristin Paulding said Cooper was asleep upstairs the whole night. There are "cameras all around that building" but there was no evidence that he ever left, she said.
Surveillance footage taken from an ATM off base less than 15 minutes after the first robbery showed someone in similar clothing and also with a mask attempting to use one of the sailor's stolen debit cards, but Cooper also didn't have access to a vehicle that night, she argued. That ATM, located about two miles from Cooper's workplace, would have taken about 35 minutes to walk to, Paulding said.
Cameras proved more fruitful for the prosecution in the second robbery, at around 8 p.m. That's when Beye said the sailor approached Corbett Rushing, who worked as a captain in the base's civilian police agency, as he was depositing money at an off-base Navy Federal Credit Union on Hampton Boulevard. Camera footage from ATMs submitted as evidence showed a man with a gun dressed in grey sweatpants and a black mask reach in and remove $100 from the machine before running off.
Minutes after Rushing called 911, Norfolk Police stopped Cooper in the 100 block of Woodview Ave, less than half a mile from the credit union, after they spotted him crossing Hampton Boulevard. Police body camera footage showed him wearing purple sweatpants and a black Chicago Bulls jacket. A small handgun recovered from the jacket was loaded. Cooper had grey sweatpants tucked in his waistband and a a black ski mask lay on the ground nearby.
Paulding questioned why the $100 and a pair of black gloves Beye said Cooper wore were never found.
A jury recommended a 20-year sentence for Cooper. A final sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 1.
This article is written by Courtney Mabeus from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.