Court rules admission by longtime agent's son voluntary, upholds death sentence
By Bill Rankin
Editor's note: This story was published on March 20, 1999.
When Andrew Cook privately confessed to his father that he killed two college students as they sat in a parked car one night near Lake Juliette, it was not a simple father-son conversation.
Because the father was a 29-year veteran of the FBI, and be- cause Andrew Cook had not been read his rights, defense lawyers contended that John Cook's reluctant, but devastating, testimony against his son should not have been allowed at his trial.
But in a 6-1 ruling issued Friday, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that Cook was acting as a father and not as a law enforcement officer when he heard his son's emotional confession.
The court upheld Andrew Cook's murder conviction and death sentence for the Jan. 3, 1995, shootings of Mercer University students Michele Cartagena, 19, and Grant Hendrickson, 22, as the couple sat parked near the lake just north of Macon.
According to testimony, Andrew Cook, now 24, riddled Cartagena's new Honda Civic with 13 shots from his AR-15 rifle and then fired four shots into the couple with a 9mm pistol.
When he was arrested Dec. 5, 1996, Andrew talked to his father inside Monroe County Sheriff John Carey Biddick's office as Biddick and other investigators waited outside. After hearing his son's confession, Cook immediately told Biddick, whom he had known and worked with for years.
In a telephone interview Friday, Cook, now an investigator for the Bibb County district attorney, said he believed his son's conviction should stand, but that he should get a new sentencing trial.
"I do believe in my own mind I was an agent of the state, not just some other law enforcement officer, " he said.
But the court's majority ruled that even though he had not been read his rights, the young man's confession to his father was voluntary.
The father-son interview "was devoid of any trickery, deceit or other psychological ploy, " Justice Harris Hines wrote for the majority. "We doubt that Cook . . . would feel that he was being coerced to incriminate himself in any way."
A ruling to the contrary would "require us to presume that law enforcement parents would place their parent-child relationship subordinate to their employer-employee relationship, that a law enforcement parent would automatically coerce a confession from his or her own child, " Hines wrote.
In dissent, Justice Norman Fletcher wrote that when Cook talked with his son, he questioned him "like you would question a criminal suspect."
During pretrial hearings, the former FBI agent appeared to resolve the question whether he considered himself to be an agent of law enforcement when questioning his son.
He noted that he did not hesitate to tell his supervisor he believed his son was involved in the killings.
"That was not a parent's reaction, " he testified. "That was law enforcement."
But Hines noted: John Cook was not part of the investigative team on the murders; Andrew Cook asked to see his father at the same time he asked to see a lawyer; John Cook was not directed by a law enforcement agent to speak to his son; John Cook's motive in speaking to his son was to urge him to cooperate in hopes of getting a plea bargain; and the interview involved "hugging and crying by father and son which is not typical of a police interrogation."
Cook took issue with Hines' characterization that he was not involved in the investigation. Although Cook said he did not directly participate in interviewing witnesses, he said he oversaw assignments for pursuing leads and reviewed the FBI's investigative results.
Monroe County District Attorney Tommy Floyd praised the ruling. "I'm particularly glad for the families of the victims, " he said.
The prosecutor said his files do not show that John Cook was involved in the initial investigation. "I don't think it would have mattered anyway if he had, " Floyd added. "I don't think it would alter the outcome even if it were true."
The members of the state ethics commission, eager to bring order to one of the most disordered corners of state government, hired a “receiver” last week to heal their agency and then did they only thing they could.
Enjoy expanded coverage of college football for UGa, Tech and the SEC, with our SEC Insider, covering all Southeastern Conference matchups and articles by AJC staff and regional newspapers that cover the SEC.