Jury hears opening statements in Antwerp manslaughter trial

·5 min read

May 17—WATERTOWN — A Jefferson County jury heard opening statements Tuesday in the trial of Nicole M. Lacey, who is accused of killing her boyfriend by running him over with a vehicle nearly four years ago.

Jared C. Cook, 28, was found outside his Antwerp home in May 2018 with fatal injuries — head trauma and an arm laceration. Lacey, who lived with him at the time, called 911 and reported that she found Mr. Cook unconscious in the driveway of their residence. Mr. Cook died from his injuries at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse.

After a two-year investigation, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office charged Lacey in June 2020 with first-degree manslaughter. She was indicted on the manslaughter charge, as well as second-degree assault, first-degree reckless endangerment, felonies, and misdemeanor fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

Did Lacey intentionally run her boyfriend over? Did she accidentally run him over? Did he fall from a roof? The latter question seems unlikely to those who testified, but those were some of the questions forming after day one of Lacey's trial.

The Jefferson County Court trial was underway at about 9 a.m., starting with Judge David A. Renzi going over rules and procedures. Afterward, Assistant District Attorney Nolan D. Pitkin gave the prosecution's opening statement to the jury, with District Attorney Krystina S. Mills looking on in the courtroom.

"Almost four years ago, the Cook family changed forever," Mr. Pitkin began.

Since the jury was seated in the gallery to maintain social distancing, spectators sat where the jury normally would. Jackie Simpson, Mr. Cook's sister, sat facing the defendant.

The prosecution's opening statement at first focused on the morning of the alleged incident. Mr. Pitkin said on May 30, 2018, Mr. Cook went with another person to Canton for a roofing job. They stopped at a Stewart's Shop for a six pack of Labatt Blue Light after the job. The pair then met Lacey at Tractor Supply in Gouverneur. Lacey then drove Mr. Cook home to their residence at 38875 County Route 24 in Antwerp, Mr. Pitkin said.

When they got home, Mr. Cook got out of the vehicle and Lacey allegedly "ran down" Mr. Cook with her vehicle with a "depraved indifference to human life," the assistant district attorney said.

Mr. Cook was taken to the Syracuse hospital after suffering "severe injuries," Mr. Pitkin said, including to the head. He died days later after being taken off life support.

"He died at the hands of the woman who was supposed to love him," Mr. Pitkin said.

Throughout much of the morning, Judge Renzi stressed that the burden of proof is on the prosecution and not the defense.

"This is a burden we readily accept," Mr. Pitkin said.

Gary Miles, one of the attorneys representing Lacey, then gave jurors the defense's opening statement.

He said that the jury should "determine who's a killer by how they act." After the alleged incident, Mr. Miles said Lacey drove the vehicle that the prosecution alleges she used to strike Mr. Cook to the hospital in Syracuse, with Mr. Cook's mother. She didn't, but could have instead given the 2004 Chevrolet Impala sedan to her father — who works on cars — to remove any evidence from it, Mr. Miles said.

"Is that the sign of a guilty person?" Mr. Miles said.

The sedan was scuffed, scraped and smudged on the undercarriage and passenger side, which investigators said indicated evidence of a collision.

Mr. Miles said his client was "at times" at Mr. Cook's bedside while he was in the hospital. He also addressed the prosecution's allegation that Lacey intentionally hit Mr. Cook, saying that it's possible he was already lying there and she couldn't see him when she drove in. He also said the defense will have an expert witness who will testify on the investigation.

After opening statements, the jury heard from a handful of people on Tuesday.

Judy Goodman is retired now but was a detective with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and had been called to investigate the day of the incident. Ms. Goodman testified that she spoke with Lacey at the Syracuse hospital that evening.

She testified that Lacey was cooperative at first but then got agitated. Lacey told the detective that she picked Mr. Cook up at the Tractor Supply in Gouverneur and drove him home to Antwerp after he was done working in Gouverneur. The couple spoke about what to do for dinner, and Lacey decided she would go back to Gouverneur to get food from Subway, she told Ms. Goodman, according to the retired detective's testimony.

Lacey told the detective that she drove for about 10 minutes before realizing she didn't have any money, so she drove back home, Ms. Goodman testified. She told Ms. Goodman that she got back home and found Mr. Cook on the driveway unresponsive.

At least three people testified that Lacey said it was possible Mr. Cook had fallen from the roof. Ms. Goodman said Lacey told her that Mr. Cook may have fallen from the roof. Ms. Goodman said Mr. Cook's injuries — a traumatic brain injury and an abrasion covering much of his forearm — were not indicative of him falling from a roof, which further led the detective to believe the incident was suspicious.

Todd A. Dalessandro, one of the Indian River EMTs who responded to Mr. Cook's house, testified that he was told by another EMT that Lacey had said Mr. Cook could have fallen from the roof. Jena Cook, Mr. Cook's sister, testified that Lacey told her at the hospital in Syracuse that her brother could have fallen from the roof while trying to clean out bee hives.

Mr. Miles disputed this throughout the day. He asked Ms. Goodman if she had testified to a grand jury that Lacey said Mr. Cook may have fallen, and the retired detective said no. Mr. Miles reiterated to Mr. Dalessandro that he was simply told that Lacey had said that. And he pointed out that Ms. Cook did not include in her police report the night of the incident that Lacey had made the comments about him possibly falling.

Trial testimony resumes Wednesday.