Nearly two years to the day after the shooting death of Brandon Cook, Christopher Strawn was found guilty of his murder.
The jury in Strawn’s case found him guilty on charges of first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault. The jury took just three and a half hours to reach a decision. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2018, and Strawn could receive up to life in prison.
Strawn, 34, represented himself in this trial, which was for the shooting death of Cook on Oct. 20, 2015. This is Strawn’s second trial for Cook’s death, as a mistrial was declared in the initial case in February. Strawn remained calm and collected as the guilty verdicts were read and as he was put into handcuffs and taken from the room.
Strawn maintained his innocence during his lengthy closing argument Wednesday, repeating his claim that he was in bed when the murder took place that night and that he had no reason to kill Cook.
Brandon’s father, Don Cook, has long been confident that Strawn was guilty but said “you never know how a jury’s going to be.” Don and his wife Amanda flew up from Wewoka, Oklahoma, earlier this week, hoping to see a verdict.
Strawn’s demeanor in court, Don said in an interview at the courthouse, confirmed his suspicions about the man suspected of shooting his son.
“We knew he did it the whole time,” Don Cook said after the verdict was read. “I was telling people up here, ‘(Strawn) wouldn’t even look you in the eye.’ If I’m innocent, I’ll be looking at you right in the eye and say, ‘I didn’t do it.’ Strawn, he would never look anybody in the eye the whole time.”
Cook, who was 30 at the time of his death, worked at Juneau’s Safeway grocery store and at the Alaska Airlines ramp at the Juneau International Airport. He had lived in Juneau for nearly a decade since moving from Oklahoma to be with his girlfriend.
Prior to Strawn’s defense, Assistant District Attorney Amy Paige took the jury back through the evidence. She showed photos of Cook, photos of the trailer, photos of the pieces of a shotgun stock that were found in Strawn’s residence and the boots that were taken from Strawn’s residence.
The closing argument also brought the sole eyewitness, Tiffany Johnson (formerly Albertson), through all the evidence again. Paige replayed Johnson’s 911 call from that night, demonstrating the terror Johnson felt in the moments after she said she saw Strawn shoot Cook in the head with a shotgun.
“Hurry,” Johnson’s voice pleaded over and over on the recording of her speaking with a police dispatcher.
Tears rolled down Johnson’s face as she sat in the front row at the Dimond Courthouse on Wednesday and listened to the phone call, her body shaking with sobs under a yellow hoodie.
The alleged murder weapon was never found, Paige said in closing arguments, but Johnson’s testimony stated that she saw Strawn using a shotgun with a shortened stock. The pieces of stock found in Strawn’s residence, Paige suggested, could reveal that Strawn was altering a gun to make the stock shorter.
Strawn’s pants recovered from that night were soaking wet from the knees down, Paige pointed out based on the testimony from Sgt. Sterling Salisbury. Strawn has mentioned (and mentioned again Wednesday) that his job as a handyman results in his pants often being dirty and wet.
“These pants were soaking wet, as per the testimony of Sgt. Salisbury, from the knees down,” Paige said, pausing often for emphasis. “Soaking wet, a lot like somebody who had been walking a trail when it’s pouring rain in the middle of the night. A lot like somebody who may have been hiding a murder weapon.”
In response to Paige’s argument that Strawn couldn’t pinpoint the exact time he went to bed on the night of the murder, Strawn on Tuesday testified that he went to bed sometime between 10:30 and 11 p.m. that night.
“I didn’t actually look at my watch when I went to sleep,” Strawn said, “but I did give a pretty close (estimate of) time.”
On Wednesday, two friends of Brandon Cook’s silently pumped their fists in celebration as the verdict was read, and three of them revealed T-shirts they were wearing with Cook’s face on it after the verdict was read.
Don looked up at the ceiling as the verdict was read.
“I looked up to Heaven, you know,” Don Cook said. “That’s where Brandon is. He’s looking down on us. I looked up to him, ‘This is for you, Brandon.’ I talk to him all the time and thinking about how he would be right now. … Today’s a happy day for him.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or email@example.com.