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In murder trial, police interview of Culpeper officer doesn't explain why driver was in school's parking lot
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BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
One of the most intriguing questions about the shooting death of Patricia Cook by Culpeper town police officer Daniel Harmon-Wright is: What was the 54-year-old woman doing in the Epiphany Catholic School parking lot?
That mystery, which may never be explained, deepened Wednesday during the first day of testimony in the former officer's murder trial. During an interview videotaped by a Virginia State Police investigator two hours after the shooting, Harmon-Wright gave his first impression of the woman he would subsequently kill.
"There was something about her that just seemed odd," he said.
In that interview, played for the jury by special prosecutor Jim Fisher, Harmon-Wright tells of being dispatched to the parking lot on North East Street on the morning of Feb. 9, 2012, and finding Cook sitting in her Jeep Wrangler with a sunscreen, the type used to reflect summer heat, across her entire windshield.
"That struck me as kind of odd because the sun was behind [the vehicle]," Harmon-Wright told Special Agent Richard Shively.
The officer said he did not talk with the school administrator, who was standing at the front of the building, but walked straight to Cook's vehicle and asked what she was doing there, explaining that there had been a suspicious person call.
"She said, 'I didn't call anybody,'" Harmon-Wright told the investigator. Then he said Cook told him she was waiting for a friend. "She gave a reason, but I can't remember it," he added.
Sue Stewardson, a town police detective who was first on the scene after the shooting, described to the jury what she saw in Cook's vehicle.
"She had boxed up a bunch of her possessions," said Stewardson. "It looked as if she may have been moving."
During his opening statement, defense attorney Daniel Hawes said that Cook had "burst" into the school earlier that morning and that she had been there "a number of times."
He added that Cook was "freaking them out," referring to the students.