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Local

‘The victim’s life has been forever harmed’

Newton man sentenced to 25 years in sex abuse case

Dustin Cooper, 39, of Newton, reacts during his sentencing hearing Monday morning. Cooper was sentenced to 25 years in prison for five counts of second-degree sex abuse.
Dustin Cooper, 39, of Newton, reacts during his sentencing hearing Monday morning. Cooper was sentenced to 25 years in prison for five counts of second-degree sex abuse.

Nate and Sarah Bradbury left the courtroom Monday with a little bit of peace knowing one of the men who abused their niece would remain behind bars.

Dustin W. Cooper, 39, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in Jasper County District Court after pleading guilty to five counts of second-degree sex abuse.

Cooper pleaded guilty in November and was sentenced after his brother, Shawn D. Cooper, 42, was deemed incompetent to stand trial last month. The Newton brothers were accused of sexually abusing the same 10-year-old girl over the course of four months.

During the sentencing hearing, Assistant Jasper County Attorney Peter Blink read a victim impact statement written by the 10-year-old’s parents. They stated the shock that something like this happened to their little girl still remains.

“You took something that is supposed to be special to women away from her, and she will never get it back,” the parents wrote. “... You have hurt my child, you took away my normal, precious little girl ... we hope that after today we never see you walk free again.”

Blink called the crime committed by Cooper an “ongoing predatory act” by someone who had access to a young girl because her family trusted Cooper to look after her. Blink also noted Cooper held a full-time job for 19 years as well as a part-time job.

“When he first came into the police office he lied about what he had done, and he then changed his lie and blamed it on his brother,” Blink said. “These are the actions of someone who knew what they did was wrong and acted in a manner to escape responsibility.”

Blink asked Judge Terry Rickers for two of Cooper’s sentences to run consecutively and the others to follow concurrently due to the nature of the crime and for the community’s safety. Blink also asked that Cooper be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his lifetime.

Cooper’s defense attorney Mark Wallace brought a licensed psychologist to the stand as a witness during Cooper’s sentencing. Dr. Arthur Konar told the court he conducted several neurology tests on Cooper and came to the conclusion he was competent to stand trial, but he did have significant intellectual impairments.

“Primarily, he needs to understand what he’s been charged with and how the courtroom operates,” Konar said.

Cognitive impairments were the main focus when Konar evaluated his brother Dustin Cooper. One test had to be read to him due to the lack of his reading abilities. Konar also said Dustin Cooper showed to have an IQ level of 63.

In terms of his verbal comprehension and memory, he was considered severely cognitively impaired, according to Konar. In Konar’s recommendation to the court, he said there is no debate in Cooper’s guilt, and he said the court should consider Cooper’s lack of judgment in regard to the situation he found himself in.

“He is cognitively impaired, he may be a 39-year-old man but he is more of a pre-teen,” Konar said. “... I also see him as an individual who is at low risk for future offending primarily because he is not someone who is out there attempting to find someone (to assault).”

During cross-examination, Blink asked Konar if Cooper would get smarter as time goes on, and Konar’s response was no. Konar also said everyone learns from their mistakes and his risk level to re-offend was low to low-moderate.

“Do you think it’d be wise to leave him alone with a 10-year-old girl?” Blink asked Konar.

“Absolutely not,” Konar said.

In Cooper’s defense, Wallace argued the parents were not properly supervising the 10-year-old girl. He said Cooper claimed the victim asked for sexual activity and asked for “more.”

Cooper was also given the opportunity to speak to the court before the judge’s sentencing.

“I want to apologize for what I did,” he said.

In response to Wallace, Blink said he wanted to point out that even Dr. Konar made the statement that Cooper is not going to get better, and that’s dangerous.

“We are blaming a 10-year-old girl for a grown man’s actions,” Blink said. “I just thought I’d never see that.”

Judge Rickers said sex crimes have a way of shattering the lives of victims and their families.

“The victim is utterly blameless,” Rickers said. “The victim’s life has been forever harmed and forever changed.”

Rickers said Dr. Konar’s testimony was “compelling,” and the court is required to take his cognitive disability into account, and the judge said it’s not a “one size fits all mindset” in the judicial system.

“Mr. Cooper needs to go to prison, that is without a doubt,” Rickers said.

Rickers sentenced Cooper to 25 years in prison for each count to run concurrently, and he is required to serve 70 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. On each count, he was required to pay a $300 sex offender registry fee, he will be placed on the sex offender registry for the rest of his life and he was placed on lifetime parole.

The family’s response

Following the sentencing hearing, family members of the victim could breathe a little easier knowing that Dustin Cooper wouldn’t be walking the streets anytime soon. Nate Bradbury, uncle of the victim, said justice has been partially served.

Bradbury has been fighting for justice since Shawn Cooper was released, even after admitting to 16 charges of sex abuse. He was considered incompetent to stand trial Jan. 29, released from custody and wasn’t required to register as a sex offender.

“In my opinion, everyone who does this type of crime is mentally incompetent,” Bradbury said. “One down, one more to go. We still have Shawn out there and we aren’t giving up the fight to get justice.”

For other family members of the victim, Dustin Cooper’s sentence will never be enough, and they wish he would have had to serve his sentences consecutively.

“I’m still sad, shocked and in disbelief,” Sarah Bradbury, an aunt of the victim said. “I think he should’ve gotten the max — he knows what he’s done, and I know he would do it again in a heartbeat, there is no doubt in my mind.”

Sarah Bradbury said Dustin Cooper might be cognitively slow, but not as much as the defense alleged.

“It’s sad they are using that as an excuse,” Sarah Bradbury said.

Similarly, the mother of the victim — who wants to remain anonymous — said Dustin Cooper received what he deserved but it wasn’t as much as she had hoped. She said Shawn Cooper is still on her mind and she can’t believe the injustice of him getting out.

“The sentence can never be enough,” she said.

On the other side of the courtroom sat Dustin Cooper’s sister, Tanya Revell. The outcome of the hearing was just as emotional for her and her family.

“The judge did what he was supposed to do according to the law,” Revell said.

Contact Kayla Singletary at 641-792-3121 ext. 6533 or ksingletary@newtondailynews.com

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