GREENFIELD — She shouted across the courtroom toward the man who harmed her daughter, her anger clear as her voice echoed off the stone walls.
He could have been the kind old man up the street, the woman said, looking down at Robert Cooper, the 80-year-old man seated at the defendant’s table in Hancock Circuit Court.
The woman’s young daughter was one of three elementary school-aged girls who came forward last year and reported Cooper, who lived in their neighborhood, had touched them inappropriately when they occasionally visited his home, according to court documents.
Cooper recently admitted to the allegations and pleaded guilty to three felony counts of sexual battery. He was sentenced during a hearing Thursday, ordered to serve time in a secure assisted-living home, where he will have no contact with children. He will not be allowed to leave the facility.
One victim’s mother took the witness stand during the hearing this week, reading passionately from a letter she’d prepared, telling the court about the pain and fear her daughter still feels whenever she thinks about Cooper. The girl is scared of strangers and has trouble trusting new people who come into her life.
Cooper could have been an importance influence on her; but instead, the girl’s memories of helping an aging neighbor walk his dogs and do his gardening are marred by hurtful reminders of abuse, the woman said.
“You are the monster under the bed,” she yelled at Cooper.
“You could have lived out your golden years free,” she continued. “You could have changed this story and its ending.”
The victims’ parents called 911 in July 2016 after their daughters, who often played together in the neighborhood near Cooper’s home, came forward.
The girls said they would go to Cooper’s home occasionally to help him with housework, and he’d pay them in quarters, dimes and nickels, court documents state. The girls told police they never went inside Cooper’s house; each time he’d touched them had been while they were working in the yard, out of sight of the family members who lived with him, court documents state.
Cooper accepted a plea agreement in mid-September, in which prosecutors dropped three Level 4 felony counts of child molest in exchange for Cooper’s guilty plea to three Level 6 felony counts of sexual battery.
Cooper spent more than a year in the Hancock County Jail as prosecutors and his defense attorney, Jon Keyes of Greenfield, tried to reach a plea bargain that gave Cooper a fair punishment but didn’t exacerbate the man’s aliments (his family told police Cooper has dementia) or stretch county resources.
Sending a man suffering from dementia to prison or keeping him in the county jail wasn’t a good option, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Marie Castetter said after the plea agreement was officially filed with the court; but Cooper needed to be held accountable for what he’d done. So, the man’s attorney found a facility that would keep Cooper locked up and care for him properly, and she focused on outlining strict rules for him to abide by while on probation, she said.
Cooper will spend the next 2½ years living in a secure nursing home. He’s been ordered to never have contact with people under the age of 18, including the three victims in the case. He also is required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, officials said.