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The fateful meeting of Paul Cooper and Michael Heidtman resulted in a situation all too familiar in a criminal courtroom, with a “combination of drugs, guns, and people dying,” a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge said Tuesday.
Judge Frederick McDonald then sentenced Cooper, 33, to life in prison, with parole eligibility after 18 years.
“The victim, Michael Heidtman, was involved in a drug deal. … The drug deal went bad,” Judge McDonald said, reviewing the facts of the incident. “According to two eyewitnesses, this defendant shot and killed Michael Heidtman as he sat in a car defenseless.”
Cooper was found guilty Friday of two alternate counts of murder, both with gun specifications, after a two-day trial. The jury deliberated for about 4 ½ hours over two days before returning a verdict.
Witnesses testified at the trial that Heidtman and another man were trying to purchase drugs from Cooper when Heidtman grabbed the crack cocaine and ran. Although he was tackled and the drugs were retrieved, Heidtman was shot once through the window of a car after he returned in a vehicle to the house in the 4000 block of Lewis Avenue.
Cooper’s attorney told Judge McDonald that despite the jury’s decision, an innocent man was going to prison for a crime he did not commit. Rebecca West-Estell said Cooper had a difficult childhood and throughout his life received “the short end of the stick.”
“So here he is again, failed by a system that’s supposed to protect him,” she said. “ … What happened to Michael Heidtman is a tragedy. That tragedy is compounded because whoever did this will get away with it.”
When asked if he wanted to say anything, Cooper responded, “Trust God. That’s it.” He also indicated that he plans to appeal.
Judge McDonald noted that Cooper had spent time in prison three times, including for a 1995 manslaughter conviction for which he was certified to stand trial as an adult and was sentenced to 10 to 25 years. The judge further noted that Cooper was on parole for a drug conviction when he shot Heidtman.
Assistant County Prosecutor Andy Lastra said that the jury took its time deliberating and evaluating the evidence and witnesses before reaching a verdict. And with the verdict, “justice gloriously prevailed,” he said.
“Paul Cooper had the opportunity to walk away from this decision. Michael Heidtman was no threat, he was defenseless,” Mr. Lastra said. “This case is an example of the senseless, baseless, ridiculous violence that happens in this community.”
Heidtman’s mother, Linda, shared stories of her son in a statement to the court, where she described her eldest of four children as a smart and helpful youngster who developed problems growing up.
Ms. Heidtman acknowledged that her son was battling addictions, and “he wasn’t Michael when he drank.” But she said that after two times in prison he was “starting to have some hope for himself and his future,” and in the days before his death, he was actively working to get clean.
“Yes, he relapsed, but Paul Cooper took away Michael’s hope and chance for a future free of addictions. All my hopes and dreams for him also,” she said. “I miss him. I’ll miss him always. There’s a hole in my heart forever.”
Contact Erica Blake at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-213-2134.