by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg announced Thursday that Louis Chen has pled guilty to the 2011 slaying of his partner and their toddler son inside a First Hill condo.
According to Satterberg's office, 'The defendant, Louis C. Chen, pled guilty to charges of Murder in the Second Degree for the murder of his partner, Eric Cooper, and Murder in the First Degree for the murder of their two-year-old son, Cooper Chen, at their apartment in Seattle's First Hill neighborhood on August 11, 2011. Each charge includes a deadly weapon enhancement. The defendant faces a sentence range of 34 to 49 years in prison, which includes the deadly weapon enhancements. Prosecutors will recommend a top of the range sentence of 49 years. Chen was originally charged with Aggravated Murder, however, the death penalty was not requested in the case.'
'Today's guilty plea achieves the goals of the prosecution with certainty, finality and what could potentially be a sentence of life in prison. The defendant also gives up his right to any appeal in the case,' Satterberg's office said in a statement released Thursday morning.
Chen has been held in King County Jail without bail since his arrest on August 11, 2011.
News of the homicides gripped Seattle, and in particular, the LGBTQ community, because of the gruesomeness of the crime scene and the unanswered questions about why the killings took place. Chen and Eric Cooper, along with their two-year-old son Cooper Chen were not well known in the community because they had newly arrived in Seattle from the East Coast after Chen, a doctor, accepted a position at Virginia Mason. Chen was scheduled for his first day of work on August 11, 2011. But when he failed to show up, a supervisor from Virginia Mason walked over to his condo to check on him and what she discovered instead of an employee that overslept was a murder scene in which a man had been stabbed to death and a toddler's throat had been cut.
Seattle Police gathered evidence from the bloody crime scene on the 17th floor of the M Street apartments on August 11 and reported that Chen confessed to the murders. What shocked crime scene investigators was the brutality by which Chen stabbed Eric Cooper, more than 100 times, and court documents said that the couple's young son, Cooper Chen, was killed with knife wounds to his neck.
Chen and Cooper had met over a decade ago when Chen was attending the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. Cooper was a 17-year-old high-school senior in Tinley Park, Illinois. Cooper eventually ran away from home to be with Chen. The two were described by family friends as being head over heels in love.
According to public records, the couple moved to San Diego, California. After Chen's internal medicine residency at the University of California, San Diego, was complete, the two men moved to Seattle, where Chen began to study physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Washington School of Medicine. But the two kept to each other, Chen with his studies and Cooper supporting his partner in any way that he could.
Chen decided to return to San Diego, where he stayed until he was granted a faculty appointment at the University of Minnesota and served as an attending physician at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis, while Cooper - who had earned his GED - continued his education, earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota, according to public records.
While living in Minnesota the couple decided to have a child, friends told The Seattle Times after the murders. They began the process of having their child through surrogacy and Cooper Chen was born in 2009 using Chen's sperm and the egg of an anonymous Taiwanese woman (carried to term by a surrogate mother from Oregon). Eric Cooper adopted the child.
Friends say Chen had a 'type A' personality, while Cooper was described as sweet, nice, and extraordinary with their son. While Dr. Chen worked, Copper stayed home with the baby.
And while several friends said that Chen was the dominant personality in the relationship and was sometimes bossy to Cooper, there were no signs of the kind of rage that police say was evident at the crime scene.
In July 2011, the family moved to Seattle and rented a penthouse apartment on First Hill.
Chen, who had previously hidden the fact that he was Gay, as well as the existence of his child, from his family, finally came out to them. Chen's family is said to have completely accepted him as Gay and his mother was scheduled to fly in from Taiwan to meet the toddler, but never got the chance before the young boy was murdered.
According to friends, by the time the couple and their son arrived in Seattle they had already decided to separate amicably. Their plan was to share the penthouse apartment while they got settled, and then Chen would rent another apartment nearby and they would co-parent equally.
But things did not work out as planned. Something went terribly wrong. The bodies and a blood-covered Chen were found on August 11, 2011. According to investigators, the murders could have taken place on any one of the three days from August 8-11 because the last time the apartment complex's electronic key system registered anyone entering the apartment was at 3:30 p.m. on August 8.
At the time of his arrest, neither Chen nor his family or attorneys were talking.
What prosecutors and police did know, however, is that on the morning of August 11, Chen's sister had been trying desperately to get in touch with her brother. She contacted the apartment manager of the building where Chen, Cooper, and their toddler lived, because she had not heard from her brother in three days, which was unusual she said.
According to the formal charging documents, shortly after 9 a.m. that morning, the manager knocked on the door of the penthouse apartment. Chen didn't open the door. Instead, according to the building manager, Chen yelled from the other side of the door that the manager should return in one hour. The manager told Chen his sister was trying to contact him.
According to the court documents, Chen's sister also called Madonna Carlson, a manager at Virginia Mason Medical Center, who was already concerned because Chen had not shown up for a required orientation that morning. Carlson then went to Chen's residence.
Responding to Carlson, Chen opened the door, and according to charging documents, he was nude, semiconscious, and covered in dried blood.
Carlson saw Eric Cooper's body - dressed only in boxer shorts - on the living room floor and immediately called 911. She was instructed to move any weapons away from the body, so she kicked a butcher knife into the kitchen, the court documents reported.
The police officers who arrived at the scene in response to the 911 call reported that Chen's right eye was swollen shut and he was found slumped near the front door.
When questioned by the officers, 'Who stabbed you and your partner?' Chen said, 'I did,' the charging documents said.
Charging documents stated that Eric Cooper was found dead in the living room of the couple's apartment with wounds to his face, neck, chest, back, and hands. Prosecutors reported that he had been stabbed at least 100 times. Their son, Cooper Chen, was found dead in the bathtub. He had suffered numerous cuts to his neck.
Both police and prosecutors allege that as many as five knives may have been used in the savage attacks. According to police, a butcher knife was found, along with a large kitchen knife with the blade broken off.
At first, Chen said he was not guilty of the murders and was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine if he was competent to face trial. Chen was ultimately found competent and the trial was ordered to proceed. Then, in 2013, Chen pled insanity according to court documents. The trial was scheduled for April 2016 and in late December 2015, in another surprising twist, according to legal documents filed with King County Superior Court in a dispute over an expert witness in the now four-year-old case, Chen's lawyers planned to contend that their client was suffering from psychosis brought on by dextromethorphan, a commonly used cough suppressant.
According to Chen's defense team, 'overuse of Dextromathorethan (sic) can lead to psychosis, hallucinations, and sometimes to episodes of violence.' The defense theory also included a plan to present evidence that Chen's 'genetic make-up' contributed to the condition.
However, Thursday's guilty plea by Chen eliminates the so-called cough syrup defense, as the case won't make it to trial.
A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled; however, the sentencing hearing will be before Judge William Bowman in courtroom W-739 of the King County Courthouse.
The case was handled by Senior Deputy Prosecutors Don Raz and Mary Barbosa.
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