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Matrix Defendant Sentenced to 40 Years

Matrix defendant Joshua Cooke, 20, sentenced to 40 years in jail for murdering his Oakton parents.

Joshua Cooke's mother Margaret Cooke watched her son aim a shot gun at her face.

Moments before, Joshua Cooke's father lived through the first few shots his son fired at him, as Paul Cooke talked on the phone with his daughter Tiffany at college in Pennsylvania. Paul Cooke was shot seven times by his son on Feb. 17.

"It is hard to imagine a more brutal killing," said Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., during Joshua Cooke's sentencing, Wednesday, Oct. 1. Cooke, 20, of Oakton, was sentenced to 40 years in jail for the murder of his adoptive parents.

Rachel M. Fierro, Cooke’s defense attorney, told the court that the case — known as "The Matrix Case" — was a “tragedy in every sense of the word.”

"I guess that is true, true for a lot of people," Horan said, during closing remarks. "It is a tragedy for the relatives, it is a tragedy for the defendant. But in addition to that, it is a brutality. We say brutal with a capital 'B.'"

“IT IS DIFFICULT to even comprehend," said Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen H. MacKay, as she read Cooke the sentence for the Feb. 17 murders of Margaret R. Cooke, 56, and Paul C. Cooke, 51.

Judge MacKay sentenced Cooke to two concurrent 32-year sentences, one for each murder, plus three years for use of a firearm in Paul Cooke's murder and five years for use of a firearm in Margaret Cooke's murder.

"I wish I could turn back time," Cooke said, reading from a prepared statement just before Judge MacKay declared his sentence.

"Every day I think of that Monday night and I get sad," Cooke said, not looking up to face his family or Judge MacKay. "I feel terrible about what happened to them. I apologize to my family. I pray to God that one day he will forgive me."

COOKE PLED GUILTY to the murder and firearms charges on June 24, 2003, with the agreement that sentencing would remain within state guidelines. Cooke could have received up to 45 years and 10 months in jail for each murder, or a minimum of 26 years for each crime.

"I am disappointed that he will not get the proper treatment and counseling that he needs," said defense attorneys Rachel Fierro and Mani Fierro, after the hearing.

"I think he should be old and tired when he gets out." Horan said.

"Our congregation still loves him," said the Rev. Kenny Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church of Vienna. Smith testified as a character witness in Cooke's sentencing. "We hate what he did but still love him," he testified.

POLICE WERE ALERTED to trouble at the Cookes’ house on Adel Road in Oakton this past February, when Joshua Cooke called 911 to tell police what he had done.

"I just shot my parents, just blew them away with a shotgun," Cooke said, in a taped 911 call that Horan played during Cooke's plea hearing on June 24.

He also told 911 dispatchers that he didn't want to be shot by police, and would be waiting for them unarmed.

Tiffany Cooke, a college student in Pennsylvania, was on the phone with her father on the evening of Monday, Feb. 17.

"She heard popping sounds, a number of popping sounds, and the phone dropped to the floor," said Horan during Cooke's June hearing.

"She thought she heard her mother say, 'Josh, you wouldn't,'" Horan said.

After the phone dropped, Joshua Cooke picked up the phone, according to Horan. Tiffany said to him, "Josh, what are you doing? Let me talk to Daddy."

Cooke hung up on his sister. He was arrested that evening.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY Rachel M. Fierro argued Wednesday that Cooke should receive treatment at a mental health facility before serving jail time.

"Joshua Cooke began life at a disadvantage," Fierro said.

She said Cooke was abandoned by his biological mother almost immediately after he was born and lived with his biological father for a short period of time.

He became a ward of the Ohio state foster care system, Fierro said, staying in the system for five years before he and biological sister Tiffany were adopted by Paul and Margaret Cooke on Aug. 11, 1989. Joshua was 6 years old.

"I remember when they drove to Ohio to pick up Josh and Tiffany," said Sharon Spratley, friend of Margaret and Paul Cooke. "They were excited about raising a family."

Fierro talked with Joshua Cooke's biological grandmother in July, after she received Cooke's adoption records from Ohio. Both Joshua Cooke's biological mother and brother have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, said Fierro, and his biological father is diagnosed with bipolar disorder with paranoia.

After meeting twice with Cooke, Fierro's expert witness, Dr. David Shostak diagnosed the 20-year-old with "simple schizophrenia." He said Cooke, whom he described as "compliant, well-behaved and somewhat naive," would have trouble understanding the severity of his action. "It was as if it was a low grade on an English test," Shostak said.

Cooke struggled through high school and failed out of Virginia State University, Fierro said. He tried enlisting in the Marine Corps but was rejected twice, even after laser surgery to correct his eye sight — which Cooke thought was the reason he was rejected.

"THERE ARE DEFINITE mental health problems, no doubt about that," Horan said, after the case.

But Cooke's actions after the murder demonstrated that he knew exactly what he was doing, Horan testified. He specifically told 911 officers that he would not be armed when police came to his house, because he did not want to be shot.

When police officers arrived, Cooke was standing in the driveway, drinking a soda, police said.

"I'm over 18. I'm definitely going to get the death penalty for this," Cooke said, in the taped call to 911.

When police searched the Cooke's home, detectives found several pieces of paper in Cooke’s room, printed from Web sites pertaining to serial killers and the death penalty.

Dr. Nadine S. Fakhran and a court-appointed forensic team at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center concluded a month-long evaluation of Cooke the first week in June. Fierro declined to comment on that finished report.

Shostak met twice with Cooke and diagnosed him with "simple schizophrenia," a condition listed in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual II — a catalog of psychiatric disorders published in 1968 — but not included in editions of the book updated since 1980.

Horan brought each edition of DSM, including the latest version that has 16 pages devoted to schizophrenia.

To rebut Fierro's claim that Josh had been abused by Paul and Margaret Cooke, Horan read Tiffany Cooke's letter to the court, at the hearing.

"Naturally, as any other family, we had our disagreements… but we always made it a point to stay as a family. We did not express our disagreements with violence or physical abuse," Tiffany Cooke wrote.

"One would think if her brother was being physically abused through those years, she would know it. That was not so," Horan said.

Ann Elizabeth Cooke, Paul Cooke's sister, said Paul and Margaret introduced their adopted son and daughter at their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, held at their Oakton house.

"That was the outing of Tiffany and Josh to all of their friends," Ann Cooke said. "I never saw abusive behavior. I never heard them raise voices."

'THE MATRIX DEFENSE,' Cooke's original defense strategy, was to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

Cooke's case received national and international attention after his defense was linked to the popular movie.

"Defendant Cooke harbored a bona fide belief that he was living in the virtual reality of 'The Matrix' at the time of the alleged offenses and thus could not distinguish right from wrong," wrote Fierro, in a pretrial request for Cooke to be appointed a psychiatrist expert for his defense.

Courtroom observers expected Fierro to highlight elements of “The Matrix” during Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, and in June, the attorney promised that defense would be discussed during sentencing. But Cooke’s “Matrix Defense” was only alluded to on Wednesday.

"That was in preparation if we went to trial," Rachel Fierro said, after the hearing.

Dr. Brad Bushman, a University of Michigan professor called as an expert witness by Fierro, did testify on the effects of violent media like video games, movies and television.

"People who commit violent crimes are more heavy consumers of violent media," Bushman said.

Fierro said Cooke often played "Grand Theft Auto III” — "one of the most violent games available," Bushman said.

Such studies haven't been proven by the scientific community, Horan said, during his cross examination of Bushman.

“The Matrix,” had nothing to do with Cooke’s case, Horan said.

"I guess a million people have seen ‘The Matrix,’ maybe three have committed crimes. ‘The Matrix’ doesn't make you do it," said Horan. "Whatever his motive was, he killed them in cold blood.”