A single-vehicle crash on Feb. 7 left state Sen. Jerry Cooper with a cerebral concussion, multiple fractured ribs and other serious injuries, making it impossible for the politician to assist in preparing for a federal fraud trial that had been scheduled to begin on March 5, prosecution and defense attorneys in the case agreed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Humble, in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, noted that he spoke to Sen. Cooper’s doctor on Friday and was told the state senator will need 10 to 12 weeks from the date he was injured before he will be able to assist in his trial.
Consequently, the prosecutor said, “We agree that a continuance of 12 weeks would be in the best interest of justice.”
But defense attorney Jerry Summers, while expressing appreciation for prosecutors’ willingness to postpone the trial, said in his response to the court that a 12-week delay would not be long enough.
In a motion filed late Friday, the defense attorney asked that the trial be delayed at least 16 weeks. That will mean Sen. Cooper will be well enough to assist with preparations for his trial during the month before it begins, Mr. Summers said.
Sen. Cooper, who federal authorities say used his political influence to get a fraudulent appraisal on a lumber mill that he was selling to an Alabama couple, is charged with bank fraud, mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit bank and mail fraud.
The Feb. 7 crash, which left Sen. Cooper initially in critical condition in Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, occurred just one week after District Court Judge Curtis Collier denied an earlier request that the fraud trial be delayed until after the current legislative session.
A new motion filed this week by attorney Summers averred that his client is currently unable to concentrate on trial preparations, or participate in a trial due to the narcotic medications he must take for pain.
The attorney’s request for a postponement was supported by a letter from the medical director of the trauma intensive care unit at Vanderbilt, Dr. Richard S. Miller, who treated Sen. Cooper following the wreck and saw him on a follow-up visit on Monday.
“Overall, the patient is still somewhat confused and requires around-the-clock narcotics for pain relief,” Dr. Miller wrote. “He still has significant pain of his chest wall from his rib fractures and contusions, and he will require further follow-up and management for (an extensive de-gloving injury of) his left forearm and hand injuries by plastic surgeons.”
Consequently, the doctor added, “it is my belief that at the present time this patient is unable to properly concentrate for a trial that would require prolonged periods of time for questioning and interactions . . . He will required a prolonged period of pain management as the rib fractures take a minimum of eight to 12 weeks to heal and, in addition, his cerebral concussion can take several weeks to return to a normal functional level.”