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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sirens & Gavels

Spokane child killer gets 36 years

James R. Cooley, 22 (Meghann M. Cuniff / The Spokesman-Review)
James R. Cooley, 22 (Meghann M. Cuniff / The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane man who pleaded guilty to killing a 1-year-old and beating another infant blind and brain damage was sentenced Monday to more than 36 years in prison.

James R. Cooley, 24, apologized the families of the children he abused and said he wished he could bring the dead child back, his attorney Mark Hannibal said. “But there is no way to do that.”

Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno sentenced Cooley to the high end of both second-degree murder for the dead child and first-degree assault for the toddler Cooley blinded.

“There is no amount of time I can give you that will make sense of this or restore what these people lost,” Moreno said.

Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Patrick Johnson said Cooley was dating a woman in May 2010 who had a 5-month-old son. The investigation began when that child was rushed to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center with severe head injuries.

“He beat that child blind. While he was under investigation for that beating, he finds a new girlfriend with a 4- and 1-year-old,” Johnson said. “He’s alone with them and the baby starts crying and he punched the 1-year-old to death.”

Spokane Police interviewed the 4-year-old and the boy was able to describe how Cooley beat his little brother to death, Johnson said. The four-year-old also suffered a split lip during the deadly assault on his brother.

When asked in September 2010 by police why he beat the 1-year-old, Cooley “said he was irritated because he was out of pot,” Johnson said.

 When Spokane detectives reviewed the body of 1-year-old Santiago Two Hearts, they found severe bruising around his mouth, both eyes blackened and swollen and a bright-blue bite mark on his left shoulder. His ribcage showed a partial hand print.

The 4-year-old later told another detective that he and his brother were in the bedroom for nap time when Cooley entered because Santiago was crying.

“When asked to show how his brother was punched, (the boy) balled his right hand into a fist and punched the ER bed he was laying on as hard as he could,” according to court records.

In the earlier case, a young mother told detectives that she had re-acquainted with Cooley, who was a high school friend. But two other adults also lived in the residence at 2708 W. 14th Ave.

    After the baby was taken to the hospital, the mother, April Fagan, told investigators that her child had fallen off a couch and sustained the serious injuries.

    “Attending physicians stated a fall from this height would not have caused the subdural hematomas found on (the boy’s) brain and eyes … that these injuries were most likely the result of shaken baby syndrome.”

    The mother said Cooley was the most likely person to have injured the child. He, too, initially said the child fell off the couch.

    Cooley admitted that he tossed the child in the air in a playful manner but stopped when the child cried. He denied injuring the child.

    A few months later, detectives learned Cooley had been charged with a second assault that resulted in the death of Santiago.

    Now retired detective Terry Ferguson re-interviewed Cooley about the first child. “Cooley sated he did not tell the detectives the truth during prior interviews because he was scared,” court records state. “Cooley stated. ‘I was mad. I’ve been mad for months.’”

Read previous coverage here.

Thomas Clouse
Thomas Clouse joined The Spokesman-Review in 1999. He worked as an investigative reporter for the City Desk and covering federal, state and local courts for many years and is currently the assistant editor for the Business section.

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