WILMINGTON, Del. – A judge sentenced a man to death Wednesday for raping and strangling a University of Delaware student two years ago before torching her apartment in an attempt to destroy evidence.
The jury convicted James E. Cooke Jr. in March of first-degree murder, arson, rape, burglary and reckless endangering in the death of Lindsey M. Bonistall, whose body was found covered with charred debris in her bathtub.
Bonistall, who was white, was a 20-year-old sophomore. A handwriting analyst testified at trial that Cooke, who is black, had used a marker to write "KKK," "White Power" and other phrases on the walls of the apartment where Bonistall lived.
Cooke, 36, also told police in a 911 call before his arrest that Bonistall's death was part of a drug war involving white supremacists.
With DNA from semen in Bonistall's body and found under her fingernails pointing to Cooke, defense attorneys had asked jurors to find him guilty but mentally ill.
Cooke, who denied he was mentally ill, was banished from the courtroom after frequent outbursts, including one in which he had to be wrestled to the floor.