Attorneys for admitted serial killer Nathaniel Cook say the plea agreement Cook, the county prosecutor, and the judge signed in 2000 is unambiguous: the court — and “any of its successors” — is bound to order Cook's release after he served 20 full years of incarceration.
That term ended Feb. 13.
“The State of Ohio has — to date — honored its obligations under the terms of the plea agreement. Defendant Cook has honored his obligations under the terms of the plea agreement. The court has not,” a defense memorandum filed in the case this week states. “At this belated hour, the court instead questions the propriety of the agreement struck in April, 2000.”
That original plea agreement, which called for Cook's older brother, Anthony, to spend his life in prison and required both of the Cooks to confess to all of the murders they committed in Lucas County, was signed by now-retired Judge Charles Wittenberg.
Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Linda Jennings, who took over the case from Judge Wittenberg, so far has declined to act on Cook's motion for release, which was filed Feb. 15.
At a hearing earlier this year, Judge Jennings asked the defense and prosecution to file memos arguing their positions on whether she is bound to enforce the plea agreement signed by her predecessor.
Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates is not opposing Cook's release, and defense attorneys Pete Rost and Sam Kaplan say the court has no choice but to grant it.
“This court stands in the position of Judge Wittenberg,” the defense memo contends. “Indeed, it is precisely because of the possibility of the change of judge that the terms of the plea agreement on this point was made so clear: it does not permit the change of mind by the happenstance of change of judge.”
The defense argues that while Judge Jennings may not personally approve of the plea deal, “that question is of no legal moment. Rather, [the court] must simply enforce its express terms.”
Further, they argue, a court cannot change a sentence after that sentence has been executed.
Nathaniel Cook, now 59, pleaded guilty in 2000 to attempted aggravated murder and two counts of kidnapping for the 1980 abduction of Thomas Gordon and his girlfriend. Mr. Gordon, 24, was shot to death, while his girlfriend was raped and stabbed but survived.
In separate videotaped confessions, the Cook brothers admitted to committing a string of previously unsolved homicides, most of which occurred in 1980 and 1981.
Mrs. Bates maintains that the plea deal provided answers to grieving families and ensured Anthony Cook would never get out of prison, while Nathaniel would serve 20 years.
“The state has previously agreed not to oppose judicial release of [Nathaniel Cook] after 20 years, and consistent with that agreement, the state does not oppose the release requested,” the prosecutor's memo filed Wednesday states.
Cook, who is being held in the Lucas County jail, is scheduled to be in court again July 26.
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