“Every life lost to brutality is unique, each family’s hell a private one.”-Judge David Hamilton
It was the 18th of August 2012. A Saturday. Twenty one year old Alisha Bromfield was on her way to a resort in Door County, Wisconsin. It was around a four hour drive away from where she lived in Plainfield, Illinois, United States.
Alisha was staying one night at the resort with her boss, thirty six year old Brian Cooper. Alisha agreed to go with Brian to his sister's Wedding as friends. They had never dated although Brian made it clear that he would like to date Alisha. At that time, Alisha was almost seven months pregnant. Brian was not the father of the baby. The father of the baby was a man Alisha met in college but he did not want to be involved so she planned to raise the baby as a single mother. Alisha knew she was having a little girl and named her Ava Lucille.
Alisha was working hard to ensure she would be able to provide for her baby. She was one semester away from graduating with degrees in forensic psychology and criminal justice. Alisha had a job too. She had worked in the garden department at Home Depot since she was sixteen years old. It worked well with her college course as it was seasonal employment and she had the Winter off work and it was paid time off. So she hoped to keep that job after the baby was born.
Alisha knew Brian through her job. That's where she met him. He was the regional manager at Home Depot garden centers in Northern Illinois and they worked together for five years. He was the person in charge of what tasks she had to do and how she did them and what hours and days she would work. They sometimes met outside of work. Alisha walked his dog from time to time.
Alisha Bromfield and Brian Cooper at his sister's Wedding
Brian and Alisha drove to Wisconsin early on the 18th of August. Brian booked a one night stay for them at the Sand Bay Beach Resort. They were due to return to Plainfield the next day. But Alisha never made it home.
The next morning, the 19th of August, Brian walked into a gas station and said that he wanted to report a murder. The victim was Alisha. Brian called 911 and told the Operator that it happened last night, the body was in the room at the Sand Bay Beach Resort and that he was the one responsible. The Operator asked him if it was accidental or intentional. He said that it was intentional but:
"I'm a good person besides what I did last night. Alisha's family is going to flip. Everyone is going to flip."
The police arrested him at the gas station and he was taken to the police station where he gave a full confession. While he was at the station, police went to the Sand Bay Beach Resort and found Alisha's body. She was on the floor with her head on a pillow. There were no clothes on Alisha's body but there was a blanket draped over her chest. When police looked at her body, they saw scratch marks and bruising.
Brian told the police what happened to Alisha. He said that they went to the Wedding together and when they returned to the room, Alisha went to bed. He stayed up drinking. He told police they had argued earlier that day, before the Wedding. It was an argument that had also caused Alisha to ring her mother, Sherry Anicich. Alisha told Sherry they were on the way home and were not going to the Wedding due to a fight they had. Sherry was surprised as Brian was due to walk his sister down the aisle. When Sherry text her daughter later that day, Alisha said that everything was fine and they had decided to stay.
Brian told the police that the argument was about their relationship. He wanted to be in a relationship with Alisha but she didn't want to be in one with him. And Alisha told him that when they returned home they would no longer be friends. The Wedding itself went well. Brian walked his sister down the aisle at the outdoor ceremony and after the reception, Brian and Alisha returned to their room. Brian told police that when Alisha went to bed, she went straight to sleep. He was sitting alone in the room thinking about what would happen when they returned home. Alisha had been clear that they could no longer be friends. He said that he was hurt and had thoughts about hurting her. He paced for a while up and down the room before getting into bed. At that point, Alisha woke up and he asked her if she would watch a show with him on Sunday when they got home.
She said no and he jumped on her and began strangling her. He described strangling Alisha with his bare hands and she was lying on the bed face up and pleading with him to stop. She asked him to think about the baby and tried to get him off of her. She even bit his hand but that just caused them to roll off the bed.
Brian did not stop choking Alisha until she stopped moving. When Alisha was dead, Brian told police that he wanted to see her naked so he removed her clothes. He then raped her.
Brian told police that he tried to kill himself afterwards but could not go through with it and slept in the bathtub that night. The next day, he said that he again tried to kill himself, by drowning in the Bay, but he couldn't so he went to the gas station and reported the murder. Alisha's baby did not survive the attack and as a result, Brian was charged with two counts of first degree intentional homicide and third degree sexual assault of a corpse.
Even though Brian confessed to killing Alisha, he pleaded not guilty at his Trial.
The Jury heard the confession and the 911 call Brian made. The Prosecution also told them that Brian was obsessed with Alisha. Police found videos of Alisha on Brian's computer. He had hidden cameras installed at his home and they were positioned in front of the toilet. Alisha called to Brian's house multiple times as she took his dog out for walks. When she was there, he was recording her without her knowledge. He also brought a camera with him to Wisconsin and hid it in a trash can in the bathroom. There was footage of Alisha getting out of the shower in the bathroom naked on that camera.
The Court heard that Alisha's friends believed she went to the Wedding with him as she was afraid she would lose her job if she declined. He had threatened to cut her hours in the past if she didn't do what he asked her to do.
It was the Defense's case that Brian should be found not guilty due to "voluntary intoxication." The Jury heard that Brian was too drunk to know what he was doing. He testified at the Trial about how much he drank and his state of mind.
The Prosecution argued that his Defense made no sense as he confessed the crime to police and told them what happened in great detail. If he was so drunk, how could he remember every little detail from that night?
The Jury could not reach a unanimous verdict in relation to the two counts of first degree intentional homicide but they found Brian guilty of the third degree sexual assault charge. A mistrial was declared and Brian faced a second Trial in relation to the homicide charges. At Brian's second Trial, Brian was found guilty of two counts of first degree intentional homicide for the murders and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison.
Sherry was so enraged that the Jury could not reach a verdict at the first Trial, that she campaigned to have the law changed and achieved her aim to have the "voluntary intoxication" law removed from use in Wisconsin. A further 31 States followed suit. After the criminal Trial was over, and when Brian was sentenced to life in prison, Sherry brought a civil action against Alisha's employers.
Sherry believed that Brian was not the only one responsible for her daughter's murder. She believed that her employers also held some responsibility as they were both Alisha's employer and also Brian's employer and therefore had a duty of care towards Alisha to protect her from another employee, a duty that they had failed to uphold.
The Judges in the Appeals Court were disturbed by the facts and details that were outlined in the case. Judge Hamilton said:
“Cooper was not on the defendants’ premises when he killed Alisha, nor did he use their chattels. But he used something else the defendants gave him: supervisory authority over Alisha. He threatened to fire her or reduce her hours if she did not go with him to his sister’s wedding. He thus threatened to take what the Supreme Court calls ‘tangible employment actions.’ He could do that only because the defendants made him Alisha’s supervisor.”
Home Depot argued that even if it could have foreseen Brian's harassment might escalate from name calling to physical violence, it could not have been anticipated that he would murder Alisha.
But the Appeals Court said that question should be left for a Jury to decide:
“The amended complaint recounts how Cooper’s behavior escalated: from private inappropriate comments and touching, to workplace retaliation, to continual harassment and monitoring, and finally to public outbursts, verbal abuse and physical intimidation. Hearing such evidence, a reasonable jury could easily find that the employers could and should have foreseen that Cooper would take the small further step to violence.”
The ruling of the Appeals Court said that a decisive question a Jury would have to decide as the case goes back to U.S. district court is whether Brian used the supervisory authority he wielded over Alisha at work to force her to go to the wedding of his sister in Wisconsin. If it is found that Brian used his power as a Supervisor to make Alisha go to the Wedding with him, the three companies could be held liable for the deaths of Alisha and her unborn baby.
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