A California man will spend the rest of his life behind bars after he shot two of his family members and tried passing it off as a murder-suicide committed by the brother he'd killed.
Robert Cotter, 19, was sentenced to life in prison on Monday after pleading no contest to the murder of his father, Patrick Cotter, 53, and his own brother, Brian Cotter, 15, according to the Fresno Bee. Prosecutors claimed the defendant carefully planned the May 17, 2021 murders, during which he shot his father as he slept before turning the gun on his brother — who had autism — in their Fresno mobile home.
“I don’t know what his issue was with his father that could cause him to commit homicide,” said Judge James Kelley. “But to execute his brother in this fashion is beyond anything I think is justifiable. It was the cold-blooded murder of a kid who did nothing wrong.”
Robert Cotter, who was 18 at the time of the murders, was accused of researching how to cover up the crime by staging it as a murder-suicide. He also searched the internet for how to use a Colt 1911 handgun and what happened to a person’s stimulus check in the case of death, according to the Fresno Bee.
HIs defense claimed that the family's home life was abusive, noting that the defendant had no criminal history before the double homicide.
“We don’t know why,” family members previously told the Bee. “We knew he was worried about something. He wouldn’t say what.”
On the day of the murder, prosecutor Daniel Walters stated that Robert Cotter waited for his father, Patrick, to fall asleep before shooting him twice, first in the back of the head and then in the back, the Fresno Bee reported.
“His brother woke up and started to run away,” said Walters. “But he pulled his brother back by the collar and shot him in the head.”
According to Fox Fresno affiliate KMPH-TV, police found Brian Cotter still alive. Despite the efforts of medical personnel, he succumbed to his injuries at a Fresno hospital.
Prosecutors said Robert Cotter tried placing the blame for the murders on Brian, according to ABC Fresno affiliate KFSN.
“He called 911, and he blamed his murders as a murder-suicide perpetrated by this 15-year-old brother with autism spectrum disorder,” said Walters.
Detectives found inconsistencies in Robert Cotter’s story and flagged his internet browsing history. Two months after the murders, the defendant allegedly confessed.
Robert initially entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, per KFSN. Defense attorneys called Robert Cotter’s upbringing “difficult” and “traumatic,” adding that there were “indications of mental illness,” according to the Fresno Bee.
“He did not have control of the situation in which he was growing up,” said defense attorney Emily Takao.
Judge Kelley sentenced Robert Cotter to life without the possibility of parole. He also declined to drop sentencing enhancements, adding a 50-year sentence for the use of a firearm.
Prior to pleading no contest, Robert Cotter could have faced the death penalty if convicted.