Robber says he betrayed victims' 'friendship'

Judge punishes man accused of stealing jar at bluegrass festival and injuring person while fleeing in car.
Cary Ashby
Sep 5, 2013

"I know why stones were being thrown at my car. I thought if I got out, there would be physical harm."

That's what Jeremy A. Cooper, 37, of 3418 Townline Road 12, Willard, said to the judge during Wednesday's sentencing hearing.

"I truly never meant to hurt my friends. ... I betrayed their friendship," Cooper said.

The defendant was talking about the April 23 incident during which he drove away from the scene of a "memorial-type event" at a Fitchville Township bluegrass festival with a stolen jar of donated money. A woman whose fiancé's foot was injured when Cooper ran over it said the injury could cause life-long problems.

"My youngest child is fearful for her grandmother who works there (at the festival)," the woman told the judge. "It impacted everyone there."

She said she has spoken to her mother, who has "had trouble wrapping her head around" the robbery.

Huron County Common Pleas Judge Jim Conway asked the woman what the festival is.

"It's a family gathering space. It was my (late) father's dream to do this," she said about the festival, which features musicians and jam sessions.

"It's open to the public," said the woman, who calls the festival "a safe place" where people can have fellowship.

Cooper apparently was a close friend of the victims and/or organizers of the festival. He said the people were close enough to him he considered them family.

Cooper, after telling the judge Wednesday he "wasn't denying my part in this," turned to speak to the victims.

"I'm sorry for what happened that day. I am sorry for what I did," the defendant said.

One woman responded: "It wouldn't have hurt worse if somebody walked in off the street with a gun.

"In fact, it hurt worse," she told Cooper.

Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler called the incident a "snatch and grab that went wrong."

"I'm sure it's a stupid (incident) he regrets now," Leffler said.

On July 9, Cooper pleaded guilty to attempted robbery. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dismissed one count each of vehicular assault and failure to stop after an accident.

"I'm not saying Jeremy is innocent. ... What bothers me is the other fellow is not charged at all," Huron County Public Defender David Longo said Wednesday.

"I think the other fellow is just as culpable (as Cooper). I'm not spinning things; I'm going from witness statements," said Longo, who cited witnesses who misidentified Cooper's tattoos and his physical description.

The defendant said his accomplice "tried to offer" him half of the money in the jar as they drove away. Cooper, who was on probation in Richmond County at the time, was the driver.

"I told him I didn't need it (the money) because I had just gotten paid that Thursday," Cooper said. "I did get pills that night -- Percocet. I bought this with my money from my paycheck."

When he told Huron County sheriff's deputies he wanted an attorney present during his interview, Cooper said that meant he simply wanted someone with him when he told the truth.

"There's no excuse for my actions, your honor. ... I never meant it to go this far," he said.

After hearing from the defendant, Conway said he thinks Cooper is "sorry for his situation" and although he apologized to the victims, the judge said he couldn't find that Cooper has genuine remorse since he wasn't being accountable for his actions. Conway also said he finds it hard to believe Cooper didn't understand what happened -- a claim he made several times to the judge.

Cooper was sentenced to two years in prison. He must pay about $671 in restitution to the male victim and another $155 for the money he stole.