In Malvern drug conspiracy trial, FBI agent details defendants’ connection to shooting victim
Jurors in the witness tampering and drug conspiracy trial of two men charged with the death of a federal witness heard from the ex-girlfriend of one of the accused and the FBI agent who oversaw the investigation in 2016 and 2017.
Donald Bill Smith, 37, of Malvern, and Samuel Sherman, 38, of Batesville, were charged in September 2019 with multiple counts in the shooting death of Suzen Cooper, 44. The indictment accuses the men of conspiracy to commit witness tampering causing death. Further, the indictment accuses Smith of killing Cooper to prevent him from testifying against Sherman. He also accuses Smith and Sherman of conspiring between January 2007 and November 2016 to possess with the intention of distributing and distributing methamphetamine and cocaine, and of wielding a firearm – a caliber weapon. 22 – in connection with a drug – trafficking crime which led to the murder.
Smith is represented by Blake Hendrix and Annie Depper. Sherman is represented by Jeff Rosenzweig and Birc Morledge. US Deputy Prosecutors Anne Gardner and Bart Dickinson are handling the case.
Cooper, who federal officials said was a confidential informant at the time of her death, was last seen on September 26, 2016 in Malvern and was reported missing shortly after. His skeletal remains were discovered in early August 2018 in a field off Grigsby Ford Road, a few miles west of Malvern.
She was scheduled to testify against Sherman in a federal court hearing after his arrest on May 16, 2016, for selling methamphetamine while he was out of prison on probation. Federal prosecutors argue that Smith killed Cooper at Sherman’s request to prevent his testimony.
Defense attorneys said Sherman had already decided to plead guilty, meaning he would have avoided a trial, eliminating the need for Cooper to testify.
In February 2017, Suzen Cooper’s former sister-in-law, Racheal Cooper, was charged with first degree murder and pleaded guilty in August 2018 to a reduced charge of obstructing arrest or prosecution. She was sentenced by Hot Spring County Circuit Court to 25 years in the Department of Corrections, but was paroled in January. She said on Monday that she drove Suzen Cooper to the Grigsby Ford Road site near where her body was later found and that she saw Smith shoot Suzen Cooper on several occasions.
On Tuesday, Jimmy Porter, the owner of the property, testified that Smith had forced him to bury Suzen Cooper’s body where it was found two years later.
FBI Agent Jerry Spurgers testified on Thursday as the investigation unfolded as the FBI was called in to assist the Drug Enforcement Administration and Hot Spring County and Malvern County authorities in the days following Suzen’s disappearance. Cooper.
Although Smith and Sherman have been identified as the main suspects, Hendrix questioned Spurgers about other possible perpetrators. Hendrix said Suzen Cooper acted as an informant in the case of around 25 or 30 people, several of whom were known to have threatened her.
“Did you subpoena the telephone records of those 25 to 30 people?” Hendrix asked.
“No,” Spurgers replied, “we didn’t.”
Spurgers said preliminary research had not yielded positive results.
“Between Hot Springs, Malvern, the FBI, and the DEA you throw a net wide enough to kind of look and I would say hit every rock,” Dickinson said. “Would that be fair to say?”
“I would say yes,” Spurgers said.
“So you kicked all the rocks and you got a lot of stuff, right?” Dickinson asked.
“I think so,” Spurgers replied.
Dickinson noted that phone data was used to help authorities focus on Smith, Sherman and Racheal Cooper and that no phone data linked other potential suspects as close to the crime as they were. Additionally, Dickinson noted that because Suzen Cooper’s blood was found in the truck Racheal Cooper was driving when Suzen Cooper went missing, more weight was placed on his information.
“It’s true,” Spurgers said.
Parris Davis, Smith’s former girlfriend, testified that the two had an often difficult relationship, which ended after she became pregnant and discovered that two other women were also carrying Smith’s children.
Hendrix pointed out that Davis, in interviews with the FBI, lied to agents about Smith’s treatment, according to a neighbor of Davis.
“Parris told you, ‘Don had been abusive to me and you can confirm that by interviewing a woman named Jennifer Christopher,” “said Hendrix. “Do you remember that?”
“I remember it,” Spurgers said.
“And Jennifer Christopher said ‘that’s just a lie’, right?” Hendrix asked.
“She denied that, yes,” Spurgers said.
Spurgers said Davis received around $ 16,000 in 2018 to help her move and asked for an additional $ 20,000, which was approved that same morning. Hendrix pointed out that a $ 20,000 reward offered for information about Suzen Cooper’s death has yet to be claimed, allowing Davis to make a claim.
Testimony continues this morning from 8:30 a.m. regarding telephone tapes linking Suzen Cooper to Smith, Sherman and Racheal Cooper in the days immediately preceding Suzen Cooper’s death.