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‘Career Criminal’ Is Handed 12 Year Sentence

Chris Cooper

By David Howell

WATER VALLEY – A Lafayette County man charged with armed robbery after robbing a Water Valley bank last October received a 12 year sentence in Circuit Court Monday afternoon.

    Circuit Judge Jimmy McClure handed down the sentence to Christopher Cooper, 40, after District Attorney John Champion recommended 12 years in exchange for the guilty plea. Under the sentencing guidelines, Cooper will not be eligible for parole.

 Cooper was arrested and charged with armed robbery only hours after he walked into Regions Bank and handed a bank teller a note demanding money on October 5.

   He showed the teller a gun and left with $949.

    “It appears that you are a career criminal. Mr. Champion is a good district attorney… you got a break here… he could have taken you to trial and if he won, he usually asks for the maximum sentence,” Judge McClure told Cooper during the hearing.

    Cooper was represented by Tommy Defer, who had been appointed his public defender.

    Authorities recovered $60 from the heist when they arrested him and learned that the rest had been used to pay drug debts. Cooper told the judge that a cocaine addiction was to blame for his lengthy criminal history.

    “I was 14 when I first started using drugs,” Cooper told the judge when quizzed about his drug addiction. Judge McClure then ordered Cooper enter a long-term drug treatment program while in custody with the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

    Cooper has three prior felony convictions, all in Florida, including bank robbery, and could have been sentenced as a habitual offender.

    “Armed robbery carries a day-for-day anyway, so we didn’t push for the habitual offender sentence,” Champion told the Herald after the hearing.

    Cooper was credited 217 days for time served awaiting trial.

    In a separate plea deal on Monday, Curtis Sea was sentenced 10 years to serve and 10 years probation after pleading guilty to multiple counts of sexual battery.

    Sea was originally convicted in April, 2009, for five counts of sexual battery for inappropriate behavior with four minor sisters, ranging in age from four to 10 at the time of the trial.

  The conviction came after a graphic trial in Water Valley, but the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned the conviction after Sea appealed the verdict, claiming his attorney did not provide adequate defense.

    In the ruling last December, five of the nine Supreme Court Justices criticized the introduction of Sea’s previous convictions during the 2009 trial. The problem, cited by justices, was that  Sea’s attorney had allowed the prosecutor to tell jurors that he had been convicted of prior sex offenses with minor children.

    Justices were also critical about video testimony used from the witnesses in the 2009 trial.

    “That took away some of my best evidence,” Champion told the Herald after Monday’s plea arrangement. “I didn’t want to run any risks with him.”

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