As the 12 jurors stepped into the courtroom to deliver their verdict on the death penalty, the father of murder victim Lindsey Bonistall squeezed tightly on a silver angel pendant.
Mark Bonistall calls it his rubbing stone, and throughout the seven-week trial in Wilmington, Del., he has relied heavily on it to get him through some excruciating moments.
Like when a picture of his daughter’s blackened corpse was displayed before the court, or when her killer, James Cooke Jr., claimed he had consensual sex with Lindsey.
This was the young daughter Mark Bonistall considered his best friend, the one he would sing with in the car.
Lindsey Bonistall would have graduated from the University of Delaware this spring. She was nearing the end of her sophomore year when Cooke broke into her off-campus apartment early on May 1, 2005, bound and gagged her with an electrical cord and T-shirt, and then raped and strangled her.
For the trial, the Bonistalls rented a two-bedroom apartment just outside Wilmington. Both parents said they were emotionally drained at the end of each day in court, likening it to getting hit with a baseball bat.
Prosecutors always kept them informed of what was expected, and some days they knew not to be there. But there were still many unpleasant surprises. Cooke took the stand and maligned their daughter and lied about DNA evidence that didn’t exist. They said they are law-abiding citizens and understand that defendants have rights and are innocent until proved guilty. But they sometimes felt like no rights were afforded victim’s survivors.
On Tuesday, what would have been Lindsey Bonistall’s 22nd birthday, the couple looked at old pictures of her and reminisced about birthdays past. Kathleen Bonistall used to make cakes for her daughters with their favorite characters on them—Big Bird and Cabbage Patch Kids when Lindsey was a child, a large shamrock when she turned 18.
Yesterday, when Mark Bonistall heard that no juror thought Cooke’s life should be spared, he allowed himself a smile before hugging his relatives.
[Editors Note: The Journal News maintains an archive of stories on this case here.]
James E. Cooke
Cooke’s defense team repeatedly made the point during his trial that in order to understand Cooke’s brutal rape and murder of White Plains college student Lindsey Bonistall, one must look at the life he lived.
In his last chance to address the jury, he targeted everyone he said beat him down in life—blaming the rich for the poverty of his childhood and the police profiling he said he suffered as an adult. He claimed officers constantly harassed him because he was black, whether assaulting him at a traffic stop or framing him for the murder.
He berated the judge, prosecutor and even his own defense team, accusing them of prejudice. But his lawyers tried to explain his court outbursts by invoking the straightjacket imagery.
Cooke’s lawyers said his life was worthy of being saved. Cooke has embraced the Bible and has been a model inmate since his arrest after the murder, witnesses testified.
The defense spoke of his relationship with his children. He had 11, although one son died three years ago, a loss his lawyers claimed caused him to spiral downward toward violence. Some of his children wrote him loving letters while he was incarcerated.
But the image of a loving father was countered by prosecutors. They presented evidence that Cooke owed several women child support and frequently hit the mother of four of his children.