FAYETTEVILLE -- A married couple pleaded guilty in separate courtrooms Friday to charges related to their roommate being fatally strangled.
Kevin and Nicole Cook, 2375 N. Hummingbird Lane, were each charged in Washington County Circuit Court with accomplice to first-degree murder in the death of Heather Hill.
A negotiated agreement between a criminal defendant and a prosecutor in which the defendant agrees to plead “guilty” or “no contest” to some crimes in return for reduction of the severity of the charges, dismissal of some of the charges, or some other benefit to the defendant. A defendant must uphold his or her end of the deal, such as pleading guilty on a particular date, cooperating in the investigation of another offense, or testifying against a co-defendant or the plea bargain may be revoked.
Washington Regional Medical Center staff called police about 11 p.m. Nov. 26, 2016, and said Hill was unresponsive when she arrived at the hospital and had "several suspicious marks" on her body, according to a preliminary arrest report.
An autopsy determined Hill, 40, died from strangulation. The medical examiner noted injuries to her neck "could not have been self-inflicted," according to the arrest report. The medical examiner noted a minor injury to the top of her head.
Nicole Cook, 36, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a deal with prosecutors. She was sentenced by Judge Joanna Taylor to 30 years at the Arkansas Department of Correction with 13 years suspended, leaving 17 years to serve. She was given credit for jail time served since her arrest Dec. 16, 2016.
"I'm truly sorry, and I hope they'll find some way to forgive me," Nicole Cook said to Hill's relatives.
Kevin Cook, 41, pleaded guilty an hour later before Judge Mark Lindsay to tampering with physical evidence. Kevin Cook was sentenced to six years probation and 420 days served in jail. He was expected to be released Friday afternoon.
Prosecutors said Nicole Cook strangled Hill before driving her to the hospital while Kevin Cook cleaned up the crime scene and removed evidence.
Mieka Hatcher, deputy prosecutor, said there were several theories about why Nicole Cook strangled Hill but no definitive reason.
"It's sad and heartbreaking for the family," Hatcher said.
Members of Hill's family attended both hearings. Two of her aunts read victim impact statements.
"Her being taken from us and the way she was taken leaves us all with such horrible thoughts and nightmares," said Lynn Shackleford. "I have a hole in my heart for her that will never heal."
Nicole Cook initially told police a variety of stories including Hill drank until she passed out, threw up and aspirated, and didn't respond to attempts to revive her using CPR. The medical examiner didn't find evidence Hill threw up or aspirated. She also police told her husband and Hill were fighting and he choked Hill.
NW News on 01/27/2018
Print Headline: Guilty pleas wrap up Fayetteville murder case