More than two years after Paul and Margaret Cooke were shot to death by their 19-year-old adoptive son Joshua Cooke, surviving family and close friends continue a legal dispute over their estate.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge David T. Stitt postponed ruling on who should inherit the estate, requesting that each of the four sets of attorneys involved file legal briefs next month.
Joshua and Tiffany Cooke, natural siblings, were adopted by Paul and Margaret Cooke in 1989. But their parents' wills, which were not revised or updated in the last two decades, were written in 1985, before they adopted the children.
"They clearly were not provided for," said John Boland, attorney for Sharon Sprately, a family friend of the Cookes' who they named to be the personal representative of their estate.
But Tiffany Cooke, now 21, has a right to the inheritance from her parents' estate, said her attorney Herbert Rosenblum.
"The real issue is the meaning or intent of this will," said Rosenblum. Because the children were adopted, Rosenblum argued that it becomes the responsibility of Sprately and others named in the associated wills to prove that the statute does not apply to Tiffany Cooke.
Tiffany Cooke attempted to become the personal representative to the estate, but her motion was rejected by a Fairfax Circuit Court judge and rejected by the Virginia Supreme Court, according to Boland.
Thomas Murphy, who drafted the will in 1985, said he was surprised the Cookes made no changes to their will in the last 20 years. He called their wills "one of the oldest wills still in my files."
He did not have a lot of personal memory of the writing of the will, but said "even if I did, I'm not sure it would be admissible."
Joshua Cooke's guardian ad litem, Robert Letnick, argued that both children would have rights to the estate, even though Joshua Cooke understands that he has forfeited those rights because he murdered his parents.
"He takes the position that he is barred," Letnick said.
<b>JOSHUA COOKE</b> was sentenced to 40 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to the murder of his adoptive parents.
Joshua Cooke was arrested the day of the murders, Monday, Feb. 17, 2003, a day more than 2 feet of snow blanketed Oakton and the metropolitan area.
"I just shot my parents, just blew them away with a shotgun," Cooke said, in a taped call to 911 that was played during his plea hearing.
When police officers arrived at his house on Adel Road, Cooke was standing in the driveway, drinking a soda, police said.
The "Matrix Defense," Cooke's original defense strategy to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, resulted from Cooke's obsession with the popular movie, according to trial documents filed by Cooke's defense attorney Rachel Fierro in 2003. Pretrial publicity about the defense strategy brought international attention to his case and family, although in the end, Joshua Cooke pleaded guilty.
<1b>— Ken Moore