A Palm Beach socialite kills her ex-husband. Twenty years later, with the same gun, there’s another shooting in the family.
Jim Cooney was a well-liked tax attorney in the Palm Beach, Florida area. He was the eldest of eight kids in a prominent Palm Beach family.
Linda Cooney moved to Palm Beach, Florida, from the Midwest. Her family had a farm in Wisconsin. Jim and Linda met when she was working in Palm Beach as a legal secretary.
Jim and Linda Cooney Wed
Jim and Linda Cooney met at a party in Palm Beach, Florida. They eloped in 1979. They are pictured here at a Hawaiian-style event in 1982 at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach.
Christopher & Kevin Cooney
Jim and Linda Cooney had two sons. Kevin, right, was born in 1981 and Christopher, left, in 1983. The couple’s marriage with riddled with problems.
Custody Battle Ensues
After nine years of marriage and a report of domestic battery, Jim and Linda Cooney divorced and a custody battle for Kevin and Christopher began. Linda wanted more money; Jim wanted more time with the kids.
“[Jim] would go to pick up the kids for his weekend and they would not be there... but if Jim would give her some money, they might appear,” said Jim’s brother, Bob Cooney.
Jim Cooney's Last Visit
On Feb. 7, 1992, Jim Cooney arrived at Linda’s house to pick up Kevin and Chris for a weekend visit. The boys went into their bedroom to start packing.
Kevin Cooney peeked through a hole in the bedroom door and saw something in his father’s hand.
“He said... it could have been a key, it could have been a knife, he didn’t know,” said Lt. Scott Smith of the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office.
Three Shots Fired
Kevin, 10, saw his mother shoot his father with a .357 Magnum as he walked into the front hallway toward the bedroom.
Kevin called police to report the shooting while Linda tried to call her friend, a lawyer.
Linda realized Kevin was talking to 911 when she took over the phone call hysterically: “I shot at him... I don’t know if I got him or not,” she told dispatchers.
Linda Cooney Arrested
Despite claiming Jim Cooney was coming at her with a knife and that she shot him in self-defense, Linda Cooney was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
Investigators believed that Linda Cooney planted a knife in Jim Cooney’s hand after she shot and killed him. They also believe Linda convinced Kevin that he saw that knife in his father’s hand.
Kevin Cooney Testifies
In 1993, 11-year-old Kevin Cooney, testified at his mother’s murder trial.
Kevin testified that his father had something with a “glary shine” in his hand when he entered the hallway. Kevin never testified that he saw his father wielding a knife, but the implication was enough and Linda Cooney was acquitted.
The Cooneys Move to Vegas
Shortly after Linda Cooney was found not guilty of the murder of her ex-husband, she took Kevin and Christopher and moved to Las Vegas.
“She was always considered a murderer.She knew she had to start over,” says GossipExtra.com columnist Jose Lambiet. “She understood that you can move into Vegas and nobody’s asking questions.”
History of Violence
In 2011, Kevin, right, and Christopher Cooney, left, were grown up and living with their mother, Linda, in a suburb of Las Vegas,but the Cooney family had a history of violence in the home.
Between 1996 and 2011 there were multiple family disturbance calls made from the residence.
Kevin Cooney Grows Up
Kevin Cooney had success making elaborate costumes like the Transformer costume pictured here. He would often win prize money at local costume contests.
In 2008, Kevin Cooney began dating Clarita Kendall. According to prosecutors, whenever Kevin or Christopher started dating a woman, their mother would put a stop to the relationship if felt she was losing control of her sons.
“Kevin -- was doing his best to be the buffer between his mother and I. Keeping me hidden,” said Kendall.
In 2011, Kevin Cooney began dating Karina Taylor, a rising star in the Las Vegas Mixed Martial Arts fighting world. But not long after they started dating, Kevin’s mother, Linda, began to call and harass her.
“He told me--she had issues with his girlfriends in the past, and that she was crazy, and that she didn’t like when he would date people,” said Taylor.
Prosecutor Shanon Clowers said “Linda’s purpose was to make the women’s lives so miserable that they would no longer wanna be with Kevin.”
Day of the Shooting
Just after 8:30 a.m. on June 28, 2011, a frantic sounding Linda Cooney was on the phone with Las Vegas police. Kevin, her 30-year-old son, was lying on the Cooney’s living room floor in a pool of blood. He had been shot in the neck.
While Kevin was being rushed to the hospital, he told first responders that the shooting was an accident.
Linda Cooney Questioned
For about an hour, investigators questioned Linda Cooney about how Kevin got shot. “I don’t understand how it all happened,” she said in her taped statement to police.
Linda claimed she entered the living room to find Kevin on the ground with a bloody towel around his neck. “I did not hear a gunshot. That’s the bizarre thing. I did not hear a gunshot,” she said.
Early Morning Argument
Linda told police that in the early morning hours of June 28, 2011, she and Kevin were in an argument over Kevin’s girlfriend, Karina Taylor.
Linda claimed Kevin hit her. The fight ended and she went to sleep on the couch. Around 8 a.m. she got up to get a drink of water from the kitchen and she heard Kevin calling her name. That’s when she found him on the ground with a gunshot wound.
Linda could not explain to investigators how Kevin got shot. “She seemed like a person who was trying to cover up what had happened,” said Las Vegas Metro Police Det. Lance Landholm.
Same Gun, Different Crime
Investigators found this gun, a .357 Magnum, lying in a towel. It’s the same gun Linda used to shoot and kill her ex-husband, Jim Cooney, nearly 20 years earlier.
Investigators learned that Linda had retrieved the gun from evidence after she was acquitted of murder.
“You would think that that situation would be so traumatic for you that you would never want to see that weapon again,” said Clark County Prosecutor Shanon Clowers.
Kevin Wakes Up
Before losing consciousness, Kevin Cooney told police the shooting was an accident. But three days later, Kevin woke up at UMC Hospital partially paralyzed and his story had changed.
“When he wakes up the first conscious words are “No mom. I’m afraid of mom. Mom shot me,’” said Clark County Prosecutor Michael Staudaher.
Prosecutors said he repeated that statement -- that his own mother shot him -- to several nurses.
Delayed Call to 911
Just like in Palm Beach, Linda’s first call was not to 911; it was to her other son, Christopher, a Las Vegas police officer. That call lasted nearly 16 minutes.
“It shows she wanted [Kevin] to die,” said Prosecutor Shanon Clowers.
2011: Linda Cooney Arrested
Linda was arrested for the attempted murder of Kevin Cooney on Sept. 16, 2011.
Kevin Changes His Story
Four months after the shooting, prosecutors were worried the case might never fly because Kevin had completely changed his story again. He was no longer blaming his mother for shooting him.
“He says his mother and him were fighting that he attacked his mother and that it was an accident,” said Prosecutor Shanon Clowers.
Back in Court
On April 8, 2014, more than 20 years after being acquitted of murdering her ex-husband, Linda Cooney was back court for opening arguments in her attempted murder trial.
Attorneys for both sides laid out their version of what happened the morning Kevin was shot.
Prosecutors believe Kevin wanted to move away but Linda wouldn’t let him leave, so she shot him. The defense argued that Kevin was angry with his mother for meddling in his relationship and he cracked, they struggled over the gun and it went off by accident.
Christopher Cooney Testifies
The state called Kevin’s younger brother to the stand. Under oath, Christopher Cooney detailed what he and his mother talked about on the phone just minutes after the shooting.
“I was trying to ask the questions like ‘where is he hit, what the hell happened,’ and -- I couldn’t get a response from her,” he said.
Christopher testified that before trial began, his mother told him exactly what happened right before the shooting.
According to Christopher, the loaded .357 was always kept on the living room floor for home protection. He said his mother told him she believed Kevin was going for the gun so she grabbed it first and ran for the door and that’s when Kevin pried it from her.
“The next thing she knew was bang, and Kevin went down,” said Christopher. He testified that his mother told him she did not point the gun at Kevin and she did not pull the trigger that morning.
Jurors Learn of Linda's Past
During the trial, the judge allows the prosecutors to tell the jury that the .357 Magnum used in the shooting was the same gun that was used over 20 years ago when Linda shot and killed her ex-husband, Jim Cooney, in Palm Beach, Florida, and that she was acquitted.
Kevin Cooney Testifies
Kevin first testified from his hospital bed. During his testimony, he painted himself as a controlling son.
“I tell mom what to do. Mom’s the kid in this relationship, not me...Mom does what I say or else mom gets the fist,” he told the court via video.
Prosecutor Michael Staudaher believes he was trying to save his mother, so much so that he went to the extreme and vilified himself.
Kevin testified that the gun went off when he tried to pull it out of Linda’s hands.
Prosecutors said Kevin demonstrated how the gun was fired: at an upward angle.
The state’s medical expert, Dr. John Fildes -- a surgeon who operated on Kevin Cooney, testified that the bullet trajectory was slightly downward and slightly to the left. Prosecutors say, the medical evidence contradicts Kevin’s testimony of how the gun was fired at an upward angle.
A Bombshell Witness
The State saved its most critical witness for the last day. Clarita Kendall, Kevin’s ex-girlfriend, testified she visited Kevin after the shooting and Kevin told her exactly what happened.
Kevin never said it was an accident, Instead, Clarita testified that Kevin told her he was sitting down on the couch when he was shot. According to prosecutors, that could explain why the bullet was fired at a downward angle.
Kevin Testifies Again
Called to testify in person as a defense witness, Kevin Cooney testified that the gun was positioned at a downward angle. To prosecutors, it was clear that Kevin had changed his testimony to protect his mother.
“He loves his mother that much. He wants her back, which is his bias on that stand,” said Prosecutor Shanon Clowers.
Linda Cooney was found guilty of attempted murder. The jury did not believe Kevin when he said he shot himself by accident.
There were a number of other charges against Linda. The jury also found her guilty of battery with a deadly weapon, intimidating Kevin before he testified and stalking Kevin’s girlfriend Karina Taylor.
Defense attorney Michael Becker believes that once the jury heard about what happened in Florida 20 years earlier, it hurt the defense.
Linda Cooney Sentenced
Nearly three months after the verdict, Linda Cooney was back in court for her sentencing. Kevin was not there, but he sent a note defending his mother. It read:
“My mother has been wrongly accused and convicted of crimes she did not commit. It was by my own actions that I find myself in my present condition...my mother is unjustly incarcerated.”
Linda Cooney Speaks Out
Linda Cooney spoke at her sentencing. In her statement she said, “my son, Kevin, carried with him an anger and rage disorder that he must have inherited from his father ... Yet, I always protected, defended and loved my son and I would never have intentionally harmed him ...What happened was his fault. It was an accident ... Please have mercy on me, Your Honor.”
The judge sentenced her to 13-to-40 years in prison.