TOLEDO, Ohio – An inmate who confessed to killing three people with his older brother during a string of murders in the 1980s will be released from prison under a decades-old plea deal, a judge ruled Thursday.
Attorneys for Nathanial Cook said the court had no other choice but to release the 59-year-old now that he has completed serving 20 years in prison as part of an agreement with prosecutors and the victims' families.
Lucas County Judge Linda Jennings told Cook that she reviewed all of her options, hoping to find a reason to keep him locked up. "Unfortunately, I found none," she said.
Cook didn't offer a smile or any other reaction after learning he would be released. He'll be required to spend his first six months in a work-release program where he'll live in a dormitory.
The judge also ordered Cook to wear an electronic monitor for a year and to register his address every 90 days because he's classified as a sexual predator.
Nathaniel Cook and his older brother, Anthony Cook, admitted in 2000 they were behind nine killings, including a string of eight murders in 1980 and '81. They told of how they preyed on women walking alone and young couples in parked cars, raping the women before killing them.
As part of the plea deal, Cook confessed to three murders while his brother admitted to killing five other people. Anthony Cook, who is serving two life sentences, already had been convicted in another killing.
Families of the victims said the confessions from Cook brothers gave them needed answers, but they wrote letters asking the judge to keep Nathaniel Cook in prison or at least placed under strict controls if he's released.
Many kept hope that investigators could link Nathaniel Cook to another crime, but they also knew this day was coming.
"We've dreaded it, but we agreed to it," said Pam Henderson, whose brother was killed by Anthony Cook in 1981.
Some said they were worried about what Cook could do once he's out.
"I'm disappointed. He needs to be in prison for the rest of life," said Sandra Rollins, who was raped and nearly died after being stabbed by the Cook brothers in 1980. "I'm afraid for other people out there."
The victims' families all agreed to the deal because it guaranteed that the brothers would be sent to prison and it gave them answers about who killed their loved ones.
Both brothers admitted to detectives that they first abducted Rollins and tried to kill her after fatally shooting her boyfriend.
Nathaniel Cook confessed that he and his brother were involved in two more killings. He said he strangled a woman they had abducted and that the pair then raped a 12-year-old girl and repeatedly hit her with a concrete block.
Cook said that was the last murder he was involved with, even though his brother continued with the killings until he was arrested in 1981.
Investigators long had suspected the Cook brothers were involved in the killings, but lacked evidence until 1998 when they finally tied them to one of the shooting deaths and rapes using blood samples and DNA evidence.
The brothers offered to confess in exchange for a chance of parole for Nathaniel Cook.