Cox & Hood

City of Richmond, Virginia
Date of Crime:  August 31, 1990

Jeffrey David Cox and Stephen James Hood were convicted of the abduction and stabbing murder of 63-year-old Eloise Cooper, a black woman. Two neighbors, both blacks, who witnessed the 3 a.m. abduction, stated the perpetrators were two white males. Police believed the perpetrators to be Billy Madison and Stephen Hood, but neither witness identified them in a lineup. Instead, they tentatively identified Jeffrey Cox, who was included in the lineup because he was a friend of Madison and because Hood suggested he might have been involved. Both witnesses said they wanted to see Cox in person to be sure. In a later lineup, one witness failed to identify Cox, and the other witness was not asked to view the lineup. Nevertheless at trial, both witnesses identified Cox as one of the perpetrators. Police believed the other perpetrator was Madison.

At his trial, Cox testified on his own behalf, along with several alibi witnesses. Before reaching a verdict, the jury asked the judge several questions. They wanted to know why Cox was a suspect, why the scientific evidence – such as the skin and hairs under the victim's nails – had not been tested, and what happened during the police questioning of Cox. The judge refused to answer any of the questions, and the jury found Cox guilty. He was sentenced to life plus 50 years in prison.

In 1997 Cox's family hired two new attorneys who discovered numerous pieces of exculpatory evidence that had been withheld from the defense: (1) One eyewitness had an extensive criminal past that he had lied about at trial. (2) Charges pending against the other witness were dropped after she testified against Cox, suggesting that she had made a deal with the prosecution. (3) Police had withheld from the defense a “Crime Stoppers” report containing the eyewitnesses' descriptions of the perpetrators. The descriptions did not match Cox. (4) Hair analysis showed that two hairs found on the victim's body were of a different color than Cox's hair.

The attorneys asked the FBI to investigate the murder. The FBI investigation reportedly discovered evidence against Hood, including a possible motive. An acquaintance of Hood, Roberto Steadman, acknowledged ripping off Hood and Madison in a $100 marijuana deal. He told Hood he lived with his grandmother, and falsely used the victim's address as his own address “so no one could trace him.” The victim was unrelated to Steadman.

The prosecution and Hood's attorney, Steven Goodwin, came up with an immunity from prosecution agreement for Hood to sign. Goodwin brought the agreement to Hood and pressured him to sign it without giving him time to read it. Hood signed the agreement. The agreement contained proffered statements, allegedly by Hood, detailing Cooper's murder. According to the statements, Hood had driven Madison to confront Steadman, and after failing to locate Steadman, Madison abducted Cooper and had Hood drive him to a secluded spot where Madison killed her.

The prosecution then presented evidence in court that the person who killed Cooper was also responsible for the so-called “Golden Years” murders of several other elderly black women in which a sexual motive was involved. Since the proffered statements indicated that Madison had killed Cooper due to his dispute with Steadman rather than for a sexual reason, the state argued that Hood violated his immunity agreement by providing false statements. It then proceeded to use the statements as a confession by Hood of his involvement in Cooper's murder. Hood was indicted for first-degree murder.

Since Jeffrey Cox had been previously convicted of the murder, prosecutors found it necessary to exonerate him as it would have been hard for them to argue to Hood was the killer while they are still maintaining Cox's guilt. In 2001, prosecutors agreed to vacate Cox's conviction and drop charges against him. The prosecution agreement was unprecedented in that Virginia bars the introduction of new evidence discovered more than 21 days after sentencing. Virginia convicts found to be innocent have always had to seek clemency from the governor. Cox is the first time serving “innocent” to be exonerated by a court since the 21-day rule was passed. Ironically, the impetus for Cox's exoneration was evidence of Hood's involvement, which would prove to be false. Cox later received $750,000 in compensation from Virginia.

In 2002, Hood was convicted of the murder. Years later, Hood obtained numerous case documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents show extensive evidence that the prosecution was well aware that its evidence against Hood was false and that witnesses provided false testimony at his trial. Documents also reveal that several officers in the Richmond Police Department were suspects in the murder.

Hood subsequently filed a writ of habeas corpus and on Nov. 10, 2009 the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond ruled in his favor. The Court, however, declined to review the facts which supported his innocence or the government's prior knowledge of such innocence. The ruling was based on the ineffective assistance of Hood's counsel in erroneously and egregiously allowing the false proffered statements to be used against him. The prosecution filed a petition for appeal as well as a petition for rehearing. Both were denied by the Supreme Court of Virginia. On April 14, 2011, following the final ruling, Hood was released from his incarceration.  [5/11]

________________________________

References:  Mid-Atlantic Innocence ProjectWashington Post, 2004 Appeal, 2005 Appeal, Hood Claim D.D., Hood Claim F.F.

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Virginia Cases