TINA COMEAU: Inside Courtroom 1: The tears, the devastation and the horror

TINA COMEAU: Inside Courtroom 1: The tears, the devastation and the horror


A note to readers: In this column, Saltwire journalist and editor-in-chief of Tri-County Vanguard, Tina Comeau, reflects on a three-week murder trial that took place in Yarmouth, NS

YARMOUTH, NS – It seemed appropriate that rain was falling outside on the day a Supreme Court jury began deliberations at a Yarmouth murder trial.

It reminded me of the tears shed over the three weeks of the trial in Yarmouth Justice Center’s Courtroom 1 as evidence and testimony were presented in connection with the death of Colton Cook in September 2020.

Sometimes I had to fight back my own tears.

i am a journalist

But I’m also a mother.

Murder, by its definition, is not pleasant. What we heard about what happened to Colton was disturbing, upsetting, devastating and horrifying.

Put simply, it was evil.

As graphic as some of my trial stories were, I didn’t even include all the details that we heard in court, except to simply say, “And the court heard more graphic testimonies.”

I found it best to just leave it at that.

I first met Stacey Cook, Colton’s mother, in June 2021. I had previously seen her at the courthouse, but I’ll admit it’s difficult to reach out to families at times. They don’t know if presenting themselves as media will upset them even more.

And so I held back until the day I texted her, expressing my condolences for what she was going through and telling her I wanted to share her son’s story. She was eager and grateful for the opportunity to share her feelings.

This mother will tell you that in the more than two years it took for her son’s case to reach court, she felt Colton’s rights eclipsed the rights of those accused of his death.

It is not easy for families to be taken to court at the worst moment of their lives.

It is confusing. Delays are frustrating. Justice feels elusive.

“As for being the parent of someone who’s been taken from you and observing that, the best way to describe it is to stand behind double doors and look inside, and you don’t have a say. They’re just waiting for them to do the right thing,” Colton’s mom said when we sat down for our June 2021 interview.

Stacey Cook of Yarmouth County holds a photo of her son Colton Cook. She says she wants to see his justice done. TINA COMEAU • TRICOUNTY VANGUARD – Tina Comeau

She came that day with framed photos of her son.

During the trial, she said she was not allowed to carry those photos into the courtroom. It might upset others, she says, she was told.

Her descriptions of her son during our first interview were of a child with an adventurous soul.

The tallest tree? No competition.

The pond that had more mud than water? “Well, I was hot, Mom,” he had explained.

He was energetic. He loved being outside. If someone needed help, he always helped.

If there’s one thing Stacey Cook and Robert Rogers (the man convicted of murdering their son) have in common, it’s that.

“I just wish he hadn’t stopped by,” Rogers told the RCMP in an October 2020 video interview of September 25, 2020, when Colton Cook arrived at his southern Ohio residence.

On this point both agree.

Yarmouth Justice Center on the night the jury announced their verdicts in the Colton Cook murder case. TINA COMEAU PHOTO The night of the sentencing

When the jury returned with their guilty verdict on the evening of January 26, the rain was still coming and going outside.

Tears flowed inside, both from sadness and relief.

The words “guilty” to the charges of second-degree murder and tampering with human remains against Rogers echoed in the courtroom.

Finally, said Stacey Cook, justice for her son.

When people asked me about the process, I told them it was very difficult to persevere. I have reported murder or attempted murder before. None is as graphic as this one.

I had to apologize to Colton’s mother one particular day when the statement was almost too much to bear.

I had heard her scream countless times in court.

I knew if she read the story I wrote she would cry again.

But she knew I had a job to do – and that job was to let the public know what was going on in Courtroom 1.

It was difficult to relive what had been done to her son.

But worse, she said, even harder if you don’t tell people.

Colton Cook’s mother Stacey Cook hugs Crown Prosecutor Bob Morrison outside the Yarmouth courtroom after a jury returned a guilty verdict on the second-degree murder charge against Robert Rogers, who killed her son. TINA COMEAU PHOTO – Tina Comeau Tough days

The first time I heard the drastic details of Colton Cook’s injuries was on Jan. 3 in a Shelburne courtroom.

It was the day Wayne Crawford, a co-defendant, entered his guilty plea to second-degree murder. He has yet to be sentenced, but the judge asked to hear details of the crime before accepting the guilty plea.

I remember gasping at one point when the mood in the courtroom was getting very somber very quickly.

I made eye contact with the court clerk. It’s also good that you can’t speak in the courtroom because there were no words.

Still, the look we shared was telling.

Given what I heard that day, I felt ready to go into the process.

I was wrong.

The testimony was even worse than I thought.

During the trial, I often took a break between the end of the court day and the time I sat down to write my daily stories. A couple of times I’ve walked the beach to relax—where the beauty of sea glass treasures helped eclipse the ugliness that can result from drunken rage.

I sat in silent thought during the time we watched Stacey Cook stand up and leave the courtroom during a difficult testimony. She is a strong woman, but still a mother’s heart cannot take much.

Still, she kept coming back — for Colton, she said.

I’ve often thought about the jury and what they went through and felt. Some photographic evidence was kept in sealed envelopes. The judge told them they could look at these photos as often or as little as they needed to. I was glad on sentencing night when Judge Pierre Muise told them to seek help if they felt they needed it. They had rendered an important and necessary service to the justice system. Still, they were innocent bystanders drawn into something truly awful.

Many people have also reached out to me to make sure I’m okay during the trial. I appreciated each of these messages.

Fortunately, there were moments of hilarity during the process. Like the time in the hallway, two weeks into the trial, when Stacey Cook suggested everyone bring a sofa cushion the next day to make sitting on the wooden benches more comfortable.

Or that morning I was following the trial via conference call when I didn’t need to be in town one day. When I heard the words “everyone stand up,” I actually stood up in my hotel room.

Force of habit. i laughed at myself

But beyond the horrifying evidence and testimonies at this trial, what really stands out is the support shown to Stacey Cook and her family.

Crown prosecutors Saara Wilson and Bob Morrison speak to Stacey Cook and supporters of her family during the trial of Robert Rogers, who was found guilty of the murder of Colton Cook. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

Every day, family members and friends came to Courtroom 1 and endured these very difficult days.

When Colton’s mother cried, they cried too.

When Colton’s mother cried, they handed tissues.

When Colton’s mother cried, they put their arms around her for comfort or put a loving hand on her shoulder.

And when the jury announced they had reached their verdict, they rushed to the courthouse to show their continued support. The news continued when they were told to hurry.

On the way.

On the way.

On the way.

Stacey Cook, Colton Cook’s mother, is surrounded by family, friends and supporters at the Yarmouth Justice Center on the evening of January 26 as a Supreme Court jury returned the guilty verdicts of the man accused of killing her son. TINA COMEAU PHOTO – Tina Comeau

In the end, there was no reason why 26-year-old Colton Cook lost his life in September 2020.

There was no motive.

No answer to the question “Why?”

Just futility.

It made me think back to the June 2021 interview when Stacey Cook told me that regardless of the outcome of this case, she would never have what she wanted more than anything.

What was that?

“I just want my son to come home,” she said.

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