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James E. COOKE Jr.





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 1, 2005
Date of arrest: June 7, 2005
Date of birth: December 2, 1970
Victim profile: Lindsey M. Bonistall, 20
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: New Castle County, Delaware, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on June 6, 2007

photo gallery


The Superior Court of the State of Delaware

death sentence memorandum opinion

James E. Cooke, Jr.

DOB: 12/02/1970

Race: Black

Offense: Murder 1st

Sentenced to Death: 06/06/2007

Date of Offense: 05/01/2005


Details of the Crime

On May 1, 2005, James E. Cooke, Jr., 34, broke into the apartment of University of Delaware student, Lindsey Bonistall, 20; he proceeded to rape and strangle her to death, then he put her body in the bathtub.

In an attempt to throw off the police detectives, Cooke scrawled white-supremacist graffiti on the walls of Lindsey's apartment before setting it on fire in an attempt to cover up the crime. Cooke used a blue magic-marker to write "KKK" in several places near the front door of Lindsey Bonistall's Towne Court apartment, Newark Police Detective Andrew Rubin said. Rubin, the lead detective in the case, testified Friday during a hearing in Superior Court.

Cooke was arrested June 7 and held on more than $50,000 bail in connection with the home invasion before being charged yesterday with first-degree counts of murder, rape, arson, burglary and reckless endangerment. Surveillance cameras recorded images of a man using an automated teller machine card belonging to the victim of the first home invasion.

James Edward Cooke, 34, an unemployed shoe store clerk, who lived a block away from Bonistall's off-campus apartment in Newark, Del., faces the death penalty if convicted of slaying the popular young woman, who was mourned by several hundred friends and relatives at her funeral May 7.

Cooke, who Nefosky said lived with his girlfriend and four children, has a criminal record in New Jersey that includes convictions for theft, resisting arrest, riding in a stolen vehicle, drug possession and distributing drugs on school property.


Lindsey M. Bonistall, a 20-year-old UD sophomore, English major from White Plains, N.Y., has been identified by Newark Police as a homicide victim. Her body was discovered after an arson fire in her Towne Court apartment early Sunday, May 1.

After completing the investigation on Murray Road, the fire marshal returned to 81 Thorn Lane to resume the investigation of that fire. During the investigation, the fire marshal found that that fire also was arson. He then contacted the Newark Police Department. Upon further investigation, Ms. Bonistall’s body was discovered in the bathtub under a large pile of debris from the fire.

“The entire University of Delaware community is shocked and saddened by this terrible tragedy,” UD President David P. Roselle said. “We extend our deepest sympathies to the members of the Bonistall Family, as well as to her family of friends here on the University campus.

“Miss Bonistall was a popular student, and our Center for Counseling and Student Development will be available to provide assistance desired by any of her many friends,” Roselle said.


Attorneys representing James E. Cooke Jr., accused of raping and killing a University of Delaware student last spring, argued Wednesday, February 1, 2006, to suppress evidence collected during a search of their client's former Newark residence.

Defense attorney Brendan O'Neill said Wednesday that the search warrant used by Newark police had deficiencies, therefore evidence collected from the home of James E. Cooke Jr.'s former girlfriend should not be used at his trial scheduled for September.

Cooke is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of 20-year-old Lindsey M. Bonistall. Police have said Cooke broke into Bonistall's Towne Court apartment early on May 1, then raped and strangled the UD student, leaving her body in the bathtub and setting the apartment on fire. He also allegedly used a blue magic marker to write "KKK," "White Power," and other phrases on the walls of her apartment.

Cooke was charged with the murder June 13, a week after police searched the residence of Rochelle Campbell, where Cooke had been living when the killing occurred.

Campbell, who has four children by Cooke, testified Wednesday that when police asked to search her Lincoln Drive apartment on June 6, she told them to get a search warrant. She said she would have allowed police to search her home without a warrant, but she was still upset that officers stopped her for more than 30 minutes the day before. She was walking to the apartment, carrying her laundry, and with four children in tow, when officers approached her. She was also nine-months pregnant.

"It was embarrassing," she said as she started to cry, "because everyone in our neighborhood got a chance to see us."

After investigators returned with a warrant and began searching her home, Campbell said she was asked to go to the police station. Campbell also said an FBI agent implied that if she didn't go she would be arrested. So, she went willingly.

When she returned, police asked her to sign a consent form allowing them to take certain items, such as a handwriting sample, from the home. She signed it.

Campbell gave several answers as O'Neill repeatedly asked her if she was aware police had already seized the items before getting her written consent. Some items were removed by police before she signed a form authorizing them.

Defense targets DNA evidence

Campbell, who at one time said she didn't know what she was thinking, would eventually say that she felt it was OK for police to take them because they were doing their job.

In order to keep this evidence in, state prosecutors must convince Superior Court Judge Jerome O. Herlihy that the search was not faulty or that there was consent to take these items.

Defense attorneys are also trying to suppress Cooke's DNA samples. Police have said they found two samples of DNA belonging to Cooke on Lindsey Bonistall's body.


Student's Killer Called 911, Police in Delaware Allege

By Thomas J. Lueck and Iver Peterson - The New York Times

June 15, 2005

A former New Jersey convict was identified as the prime suspect in the killing of a female University of Delaware sophomore from White Plains in part because of the man's bizarre behavior, which included making a 911 call with the intention of throwing the police off his trail, the authorities said yesterday.

The suspect, James E. Cooke Jr., was charged Monday in Delaware with first-degree murder, arson, rape, burglary and reckless endangerment in the killing of the student, Lindsey M. Bonistall, 20. The police said Mr. Cooke made a 911 call to the police in Newark, the small Delaware city that is home to the university, not long after Miss Bonistall was found dead in her apartment on May 1.

The caller "had a number of details on the crime," said Capt. William Nefosky of the Newark Police Department. But the caller also said things "to send us off in a different direction," the captain said.

Detectives who listened to him immediately thought, "He is from New Jersey, and he has this distinctive accent," Captain Nefosky said, adding, "We believe it was Cooke that made the phone call."

That call provided one of several leads for the police in the leafy university town, where murders are rare, and where Miss Bonistall's killing sent out shock waves that did not subside until Mr. Cooke's arrest six weeks later. The victim was found strangled in her apartment, her body left in a bathtub under the debris of a fire that had been set by her attacker.

The University of Delaware, which over the years has been a magnet for students from Westchester County, is "very proud of the Newark Police Department," David P. Roselle, the university's president, said in remarks posted on its Web site after Mr. Cooke's arrest was announced on Monday.

"What happened here was a terrible tragedy," he said. "And it was a tragedy made even worse by our knowing that the perpetrator was on the loose."

Yesterday, Captain Nefosky described the investigation that led to the arrest of Mr. Cooke, 34, who had been imprisoned for years in New Jersey. He had been living in Newark for less than a year with his girlfriend and three children in an apartment about 200 feet from Ms. Bonistall's.

"He was not a known person to the Newark police," Captain Nefosky said. But now, he said, detectives have "physical evidence linking him to Lindsey," and to an attack on a female graduate student that took place a day before Miss Bonistall's body was found.

"Right from the onset, we thought these two were related," he said.

The graduate student, whose identity has not been disclosed, was attacked as she slept in her apartment. She lived close to Miss Bonistall along a four-lane commercial strip less than a half-mile south of the campus.

The police said the graduate student's assailant took money, credit cards and an automated teller machine card from the Wilmington Trust Company. When a man tried to use the bank card, his image was captured on a bank camera, enabling the police to prepare a composite sketch.

That sketch was run in Delaware newspapers and shown on local television. According to The News Journal of Newark, it was also posted in a local shoe store where Mr. Cooke had been working, and he immediately went missing from his job, and did not return.

Mr. Cooke was charged a week ago with robbery, burglary and theft in the case of the graduate student, and he was in police custody when he was charged on Monday in Miss Bonistall's murder. He is charged separately with a series of home invasions that occurred last week in Atlantic City.

Mr. Cooke's criminal record in New Jersey is extensive, including convictions for theft, resisting arrest, drug possession and other offenses.

A spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Corrections, Deirdre Fedkenheuer, said that since 1992, he served time in several state prisons, including the South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton and the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.

He had been on parole in New Jersey, and forbidden to leave the state without the consent of his parole officer, until March 2, 2004, according to New Jersey parole records.

Investigators in Delaware said they thought Mr. Cooke had moved to Newark sometime in late 2004.


Man guilty in Delaware rape, murder

March 8, 2007

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — A man accused of raping and killing a University of Delaware student, whose body was discovered in her burning apartment, was found guilty Thursday and could face the death penalty.

Defense attorneys had urged the jury to find James E. Cooke Jr. mentally ill.

Cooke, 36, broke into the apartment of Lindsey M. Bonistall, of White Plains, N.Y., in May 2005, then raped and strangled the 20-year-old college sophomore before placing her body in a bathtub and setting the fire, prosecutors said.

Cooke, however, denied killing Bonistall and said they had had consensual sex. He also said he isn't mentally ill.

In court, he claimed his attorneys were working with the judge to railroad him, and was finally banished from the courtroom by Judge Jerome Herlihy after frequent outbursts. The next step in his case is the death penalty phase. No date had yet been set for the start.

The jury deliberated just over two days before finding him guilty of murder, felony murder, rape, robber, three counts of burglary, arson, reckless endangering, and two counts of misdemeanor theft.

Prosecutors used DNA evidence to link Cooke to the killing.

During opening statements, prosecutor Steven Wood also played excerpts from a 911 tape in which he said Cooke, who is black, talked to a dispatcher about two burglaries at nearby residences just days before Bonistall's killing and provided details about the killing, which the caller suggested was part of a drug war involving white supremacists.

Among other things, the voice on the tape referred to "KKK" and "White Power" graffiti found in Bonistall's apartment. A handwriting analyst testified that the writing was consistent with samples of Cooke's writing.


Lindsay Bonistall's killer sentenced to death

By Jonathan Bandler - The Journal News

June 7, 2007

The killer of White Plains college student Lindsey Bonistall was sentenced to death yesterday by a judge who acknowledged his horrific upbringing but found it did not outweigh the "slow, painful, terrifying" death of the 20-year-old University of Delaware sophomore.

James Cooke Jr. sat silently as it became clear Superior Court Judge Jerome Herlihy would follow a jury's unanimous recommendation that he deserves death for the May 1, 2005, rape and strangulation of Bonistall in her off-campus apartment in Newark. Three rows back, one of the defendant's relatives let out a gasp. Across the aisle, several members of Bonistall's family began to weep. Herlihy then ordered Cooke to stand

"James E. Cooke, in accordance with the law of the state of Delaware, it is the sentence of the Court that you be kept in the custody of the Department of Correction until such time that you shall be injected intravenously with a substance or substances in a lethal quantity sufficient to cause death until you are dead," Herlihy said.

Once their daughter's killer was led from the courtroom, Mark Bonistall embraced his wife, Kathleen, as she sobbed against his shoulder.

As they later left the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington, Del., they expressed relief that the trial had run its course and months of shuttling back and forth from New York was over. They welcomed the sentence and said they hoped it would be upheld on appeal.

"We were never big proponents of the death penalty. But when you have a child murdered so violently, so horrifically, any lesser sentence would not have served justice," Kathleen Bonistall said.

Neither would refer to Cooke by name, calling him the "individual" or the "defendant." Lindsey's uncle, John Bonistall, said the entire family refrains from uttering the name. "It's almost considered a curse word in our family," he said.

Prosecutors hailed the death sentence as appropriate but said it was not something to feel good about because it resulted from a tragedy.

"There was a striking contrast between the promise and goodness of Lindsey Bonistall and the menacing evil that is James Cooke," said Deputy Attorney General Steven Wood. "And that contrast was, I think for all of us, a source of very powerful emotions."

Cooke, now 36, was abused and neglected throughout an impoverished childhood in nearby Salem, N.J., even getting his feet scalded by his mother's boyfriend as a toddler, an injury that still affects the way he walks. He grew up to be an aggressive teenager, a drug dealer and a thief, although never to the violent level that he reached two years ago.

He lived around the corner from Bonistall with his girlfriend and four of his 10 children. The killing was the culmination of a break-in spree of escalating violence that week. The night before, he had threatened to kill a woman but fled her apartment when she screamed her roommate's name and dialed 911 on her cell phone.

Early on May 1, he broke into Bonistall's apartment through a sliding-glass door. He gagged her, raped her and strangled her with a T-shirt. He then put her body in the bathtub, set it on fire and scrawled messages on the wall to confuse police into thinking the crime was committed by white supremacists.

"Strangling Bonistall requires a desire to kill lasting much longer than pulling a trigger one or two times," Herlihy said. "It is particularly 'up close and personal.' The use of her T-shirt and pressing on her chest betrays a cold-blooded viciousness. It was a slow, painful, terrifying death."

It was the seventh time Herlihy has sent a convicted murderer to death row, and he has never gone against the jury's recommendation in nine death-penalty cases.

Cooke's conviction and sentence are automatically appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court. No execution date is set, and it would be several years before he is put to death.

He joins 16 other men on Delaware's death row, although executions are on hold in the state while a lawsuit brought by one of them, challenging lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment, is pending.

Cooke spent most of the trial in a holding cell after several outbursts in which he complained the judge was unfair, the prosecutors and police were framing him and his lawyers were pursuing a mental illness defense he didn't want. On one occasion he had to be wrestled to the floor by bailiffs.

Cooke insisted he had consensual sex with Bonistall and did not kill her. The jury rejected his claims and convicted him of first-degree murder.

Cooke's public defenders, Brendan O'Neill and Kevin O'Connor, had conceded his guilt during the trial but focused on his troubled childhood in an attempt to secure life imprisonment.

They said they were disappointed by the judge's decision yesterday but not surprised, considering the jury's unanimous recommendation, and they will begin their appeal immediately.

"He's more than just the worst thing he ever did. He's a human being," O'Connell said. "We lost this battle, but there's still more to be done."

O'Neill said their client was stunned. "He understood this day was coming, and while he could expect this decision from the judge, it's difficult to appreciate it fully until it's announced publicly."

Five of the jurors and one of the alternates also attended the sentencing and welcomed the chance to speak with the Bonistall family when it was over.

Kathleen Bonistall made a point of telling them about PEACE OUTside Campus, the Lindsey M. Bonistall Foundation the family set up to promote safe campus communities at colleges around the country.

One of the jurors, Stewart Dotts, a 53-year-old high school chemistry teacher, said he wanted his own closure in the case and would have been satisfied with whatever the judge decided. He expressed no pleasure with the sentence.

"Neither side won. The truth came out," he said. "We made no moral judgment. It was a legal decision."



April 27, 2005 James Cooke Jr. breaks into Cheryl Harmon's apartment at 11 Thorn Lane in Newark, Del., across an alley from his home, and steals two rings with her name on them.

April 30

1 a.m.: Cooke confronts Amalia Cuadra in her West Park Place house and threatens to kill her if she doesn't turn over money and credit cards. He demands that she take her clothes off but flees when she yells, "Christina, Christina," her roommate's name.
4:19 a.m.: Cooke tries to use one of Cuadra's credit cards at a nearby automated teller machine.

May 1

1:15 a.m.: Lindsey Bonistall returns to her apartment at 81 Thorn Lane.
2:45 a.m.: Firefighters respond to reports of smoke at Bonistall's apartment and extinguish a fire. They leave to battle another fire a few blocks away.
12:30 p.m.: Fire officials and a Newark detective return to Bonistall's apartment and find her body under charred debris in the bathtub. She had been gagged, raped and strangled.

May 2, 2005 Cooke disguises his voice on a 911 call to Newark police in which he claims the killing and the Harmon burglary were the work of a white supremacist drug gang. He uses Harmon's name and the name of Cuadra's roommate, which had not been made public, helping police link the three crimes.

Late May Cooke's bosses at a shoe store tell police they recognize Cooke in a poster showing a surveillance photo from the ATM.

June 6 Cooke is arrested in Wilmington, Del., on charges in the second break-in. He is charged that week in Bonistall's killing when results of DNA testing, with odds of 1 in 676 quintillion that it was someone else, link him to the rape.

Jan. 23, 2007 Cooke's trial begins.

March 8 Cooke is convicted of first-degree murder after the jury rejects his lawyers' contention that he was guilty but mentally ill.

March 21 The jury recommends the death penalty for Cooke.

June 6 Superior Court Justice Jerome Herlihy finds that the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigation and sentences Cooke to death by lethal injection.



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