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A newly discovered, mysterious recording of a 911 call, made from the home of Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Josephine Holmes Cook the day she was fatally shot, is the linchpin of her convicted killer’s bid for a new trial in Georgia. The brief, difficult-to-hear recording captures what sounds like a woman’s faint and repeated cries for help, as well as another, garbled voice in the background. But the voices on the 911 recording and the timing of the call pose more questions than answers about the judge’s 1996 murder. That’s because the call came hours after Cook died, according to the medical examiner. And the call came less than two minutes before a neighbor, alerted by the judge’s son, called 911 and summoned help. The son, Raynard W. Cook, was later convicted of shooting his mother and leaving her to bleed to death in her southwest Fulton home Oct. 16, 1996. His former defense lawyers insist they never had the 911 recording and just learned of its existence. His current defenders argue Fulton County, Ga., prosecutors withheld the tape and that it could have changed the outcome of Cook’s 1998 trial. The approximately 20-second recording begins with a 911 operator saying “Fulton County 911, may I help you?” Throughout the tape, the operator repeats, “Hello, can I help you?” While the sound is muddy, a voice can be heard in the background talking, although the words are indistinguishable, as is the gender of the speaker. Three times, a faint feminine voice seems to say “Help.” “It’s chilling,” says one of Cook’s trial lawyers, Tony L. Axam, who only recently heard the tape. He says he would have used it at the 1998 trial to create “as much of a storm as I could have with that piece of information.” One of Cook’s new lawyers, Laura D. Hogue of Macon, Ga.’s Hogue & Hogue, says she had asked to review not only prosecutors’ paperwork, but also the evidence. Hogue says she discovered the cassette earlier this year, while preparing her client’s appeal, in one of the boxes prosecutors provided to her. The discovery, says Hogue, is the centerpiece of Cook’s bid for a new trial. Clearly, she says, the tape is important evidence and the defense never got it. Prosecutors are required, under Brady v. Maryland, to turn over all exculpatory evidence, meaning evidence that tends to show innocence, to the defense before trial. Exactly where the tape recording has been for the past four years is unclear. The taped copy of the call must have been made within 90 days of the murder, because 911 recordings are routinely erased after 90 days and recorded over. Axam, who was co-counsel at the 1998 trial with Althea L. Buafo of Macon, says he asked for any 911 tapes during discovery and was told there were none. PROSECUTORS CLAIM IGNORANCE Lead trial prosecutor Suzanne W. Ockleberry, now with AT&T, says she doesn’t remember such a tape and has never heard it. “I gave [defense lawyers] everything I had,” Ockleberry says, adding that other prosecutors had the files before she was assigned to Cook’s case. “If I had had it, I would have given it to them.” Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth A. Baker agrees. “If we had known it was in the office, we would have given it to the defense.” “We’re not saying there was anything sinister” in Fulton prosecutors’ failure to produce the tape,” says Hogue. It may have been simply misplaced or overlooked, she says. But a Brady violation is not contingent on sinister motives, but only on a failure to produce, she says. And prosecutors clearly had the tape, she says “It was right there” in the files. Overturning a conviction based on a Brady violation requires proof that the withheld evidence might have affected the outcome of the trial. But whether the tape will help Raynard Cook, now serving a life sentence in Georgia’s Telfair State Prison, is far from clear. The call and the time it was supposedly placed — 6:58 p.m. on Oct. 16, 1996 — are puzzling. It’s not known if the female voice on the tape is that of Judge Cook, who bled to death from a gunshot wound to her arm that should not have been fatal had help arrived earlier. Cook was shot in her upstairs bedroom and made her way down the steps, leaving a trail of blood, before collapsing between the foyer and the living room. Prosecutors told the jury that the judge and her son had quarreled over his bad grades and a stash of marijuana discovered in the teenager’s room. The family dispute escalated into violence, they said. Raynard, 17 at the time, shot his mother in the early morning hours, and left her bleeding while he went to school, arriving there between 8:05 and 8:15 a.m., prosecutors said. Raynard admitted he had a Glock .9 mm, the same type of gun used to shoot his mother, but claimed he threw it away after his mother’s death, wanting nothing to do with it. The murder weapon was never found. At the 1998 trial, a Fulton County medical examiner placed the time of death between 6:45 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. Depending on how much she exerted herself, the medical examiner said Cook probably lived between 15 and 45 minutes after the shooting. The examiner said that when police arrived shortly after 7 p.m., the judge had been dead for at least several hours. Raynard Cook claimed he discovered his mother’s body at about 7 p.m. when he got home from school and a football banquet. He said he found telephones in the upstairs bedroom and kitchen unplugged and tried to call 911 by plugging in the kitchen phone, but could not get through. In a panic, he told police, he ran to a neighbor’s home, and the neighbor called 911. The neighbor’s call was logged in by Fulton’s 911 system at 7 p.m., less than two minutes after the first call. That makes the first 911 call all the more puzzling, Hogue says. “If it was two minutes before, it can’t be her. If it was her, it can’t be two minutes before. “It’s weird, that’s all I can say,” Hogue says. “It meets the weird test.” It is also upsetting to the judge’s family, she says, adding that it “draws tears every time they hear it. Some think it’s her.” Cook apparently did try to summon help before her death. Police found bloody fingerprints on the “9″ and the “1″ keys of the upstairs bedroom telephone. But a detective testified at a preliminary hearing that no 911 call had been placed from the Cook residence the morning of the judge’s death. Hogue, who is handling the motion for a new trial with her husband and law partner, Franklin J. Hogue, says she took her copy of the tape to a recording studio in hopes of cleaning up the poor sound. All the studio could do, she says, was bring the level of the female voice up to the same level as the 911 dispatcher. One set of records from Fulton 911 shows only the second call from the neighbor’s house, Hogue says, while another shows both calls. There may be a mystery surrounding the 911 call, but the fact that it raises so many questions, “tells us it’s exculpatory,” Hogue says. At a recent hearing on the motion for a new trial before Superior Court Senior Judge L.A. McConnell Jr., a Houston County judge who presided at the 1998 trial, the Hogues put Tony Axam on the stand to testify the taped 911 call would have made a big difference in how he presented his case. In an interview, Axam is emphatic: “I would’ve played the tape,” he says, and had it subjected to voice stress and analysis tests. Prosecutors must have believed it was Cook’s voice on the tape, he argues, since it was in the file with documents on her murder. And he says he would have argued “the absence of evidence” — her failure to finger her son during the call. As for the seemingly impossible timing of the call, he says he would have argued “Something’s wrong with the time.” The 911 records, he adds, are not infallible. Regardless of the 911 call, Ockleberry says that Raynard Cook still confessed to his family members. Police said the teenager’s uncle told them Raynard had confessed to shooting his mother, a claim that the uncle, Rev. R. B. Holmes Jr., later angrily denied under oath. Ockleberry says even if the voice on the tape is Judge Cook, “To me, it’s not doing them [the defense] any good.” If the 911 call was made at 7 p.m., she says, Raynard Cook was the only person in the home with Judge Cook.

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