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Testimony heard on ’16 slaying of Malvern woman

Night of shooting, burial of drug informant described to jury by Dale Ellis | September 15, 2021 at 7:12 a.m.
A gavel and the scales of justice are shown in this photo.

Jurors in a conspiracy trial regarding the death of a federal drug informant were given a detailed description Monday of the night of her shooting death and on Tuesday were given a description of her burial by a witness who told federal authorities that he did it at the direction of the man who he said killed her.

Donald Smith, 37, of Malvern and Samuel Sherman, 38, of Batesville are on trial on several charges in the 2016 shooting death of 44-year-old Suzen Cooper.

A 2019 indictment charges the men with conspiracy to commit witness tampering causing death. In addition, the indictment charges Smith with killing Cooper to prevent her from testifying against Sherman. It also accuses Smith and Sherman of conspiring between January 2007 and November 2016 to possess with the intent to distribute, and distributing, methamphetamine and cocaine, and of brandishing a firearm — a .22-caliber gun — in relation to a drug-trafficking crime that led to murder.

Racheal Cooper, the former sister-in-law of Suzen Cooper, told the jury Monday that she saw Smith shoot Suzen Cooper the night of Sept. 27, 2016. In subsequent testimony, though, she told the jury that Sherman had nothing to do with the death.

Suzen Cooper, who federal officials said was a confidential informant at the time of her death, was last seen Sept. 26, 2016, in Malvern and was reported missing shortly after. Her skeletal remains were found in early August 2018 in a field off Grigsby Ford Road, a few miles west of Malvern.

In February 2017, Racheal Cooper was charged with first-degree murder in the case and pleaded guilty in August 2018 to a reduced charge of hindering apprehension or prosecution. She was sentenced in Hot Spring County Circuit Court to 25 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections and was released on parole in January after having served less than five years in prison.

On Monday, she testified for several hours, telling prosecutors that she had driven Suzen Cooper to Grigsby Ford Road the night of her death and saw Smith shoot her several times.

On Tuesday, Jimmy Porter, who owned the Grigsby Road property where the body was found, testified that he buried her there at the the direction of Smith. Porter said Smith drove to his house the night of the killing and told him to bury Cooper, threatening Porter’s wife and children if he didn’t do as he was directed.

“So he said there was a situation at your house,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne Gardner said to Porter during his testimony. “What did that mean to you?” “I thought there was someone stealing my tools,” Porter said.

“How is Mr. Smith acting at that point?” Gardner asked.

“Real sketchy,” Porter answered.

“Is that unusual?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Porter answered.

Porter testified that he walked over to a shed on his property and saw a pair of feet sticking out.

“I noticed she was blue in color and she was dead,” he said. “I had no idea who she was.” Porter said that at Smith’s direction, he buried the body, which took about seven hours, from 10 p.m. the night of the killing to nearly sunrise the next day. He said Smith was there the entire time, texting and threatening him with a gun, in contradiction to Racheal Cooper’s testimony the previous day that Smith had helped clean up her mother’s pickup that night after the killing.

After he helped bury the body, Porter said, he got cleaned up and went to work and said nothing to anyone about what had transpired until he told his mother as he was on the way to testify to the grand jury in 2018.

Blake Hendrix, one of Smith’s defense attorneys, attacked Porter’s testimony on several fronts, pointing out a number of inconsistencies between Porter’s earlier statements to investigators and the grand jury and his testimony to the jury on Tuesday.

“I did not remember everything that went on in particular,” Porter said. “It was pitch black, I was digging a hole, a deep hole.” Testimony continues at 8:30 a.m. today.

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