By Arianna Pickard
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Cole Hopper was formally sentenced to nine years with 85 percent serving time for manslaughter after delivering an emotionally charged testimony and apology to the victim’s family in Cleveland County District court Friday.
Throughout his trial, which lasted from June 13 to 18, the court never heard from Hopper, but at his formal sentencing Friday he stood up and addressed the court with a tear-filled apology and request for forgiveness.
Hopper, 21, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter for shooting 19-year-old Kelsey Bransby and leaving her to die in October, 2011.
Bransby was found alone with a gunshot wound in her head in an apartment in south Oklahoma City that nigh. She died the next day in the hospital. Hopper, a close friend of Kelsey’s, was one of the two other people in the room when she was shot, and though he pleaded innocent, the jury found him guilty of shooting her and recommended a nine-year sentence.
At his formal sentencing Friday, Hopper stood up, removed his glasses and took a few moments to control his emotions before he said through tears, “Look, I loved Kelsey very much, and I never intended what happened to her.”
He apologized to Bransby’s family present in court, saying if there was anything he could do for them, he would do it.
“What I hope and pray for most is that we can find forgiveness in ourselves so we can find peace,” he said.
Hopper’s testimony followed three emotion-filled testimonies from his grandfather, the victim’s grandmother and the case manager at the Cleveland County Detention Center where he’s been staying.
Both Hopper and Bransby’s grandparents said they hoped their testimonies would redeem the character of their grandchildren, whose lifestyles had not been portrayed positively throughout the trial.
Bransby’s grandmother said several witnesses had described Bransby’s drug addiction, but there was more to her than her drug usage — she was a loving daughter and granddaughter.
“I miss her so much,” she said, describing how much she used to enjoy shopping and visiting with her only granddaughter.
She also mentioned how Bransby’s death has affected her mother, who was present in court. She said Bransby’s mother told her she is filled with sorrow every day.
In addition to her family, Bransby truly cared about her friends, and she loved Hopper, she said.
Hopper’s grandfather’s testimony followed, describing how much he and his family knew and loved Bransby. He turned around to face Bransby’s family members and tell them he was terribly sorry for their loss.
However, just as Bransby’s grandmother hoped her granddaughter wouldn’t be defined by her drug usage, he hoped his grandson wouldn’t be defined by his wrongdoings.
“(Hopper) exercised poor judgment,” he said. “While he is very passionate and very smart, he made poor decisions, and hopefully throughout his sentence he can receive some kind of psychological education to help him improve.”
“In closing, we love Cole and we’d like to have him back with the family,” he said.
Brandi Smith, case manager for the Cleveland County Detention Center, testified that Hopper attended every class offered while in jail.
“Some inmates come in and do nothing but try to feel sorry for themselves,” she said.
But Hopper has been taking advantage of the opportunities the detention center offers and has shown remorse for what happened, she said.
Before giving the sentence, sentencing judge Tracy Schumacher pointed out that Hopper’s jury was the youngest she had ever seen — four out of the 12 jurors were under 25 — which is very unusual for a Cleveland County jury.
“You truly had a jury of your peers,” she said, looking at Hopper.
However, Hopper was found to have been irresponsible with guns and was “so devoid of a moral compass” he left Bransby to die after she was shot, she said.
So much of this case could have been solved by Hopper simply apologizing from the beginning and telling the truth, she said.
“But we’ll never know what that was,” she said and delivered his sentence.