A California teenager has been sentenced to life in prison for killing his father and then trying to stage it as a murder-suicide committed by his autistic younger brother.
Robert Cotter, 19, shot and killed his father, Patrick Cotter, 53, and his younger brother, Brian Cotter, 15, in their Fresno, Calif. mobile home in May 2021. Robert himself called law enforcement to report their deaths and claimed Brian shot his father and then turned the gun on himself.
Wounds not Consistent with Suicide
Police discovered Patrick dead from a "gunshot wound to the upper body," and Brian alive, but severely wounded. Brian was rushed to the hospital, where he clung to life for several days before succumbing to his injuries.
Authorities said Cotter's plan to pin things on his brother fell through once police determined the victim's wounds were not consistent with suicide.
"He called 911 and he blamed his murders as a murder-suicide perpetrated by his 15-year-old brother with autism spectrum disorder," Fresno County Deputy District Attorney Daniel Walters reportedly told the court. "His brother woke up, started to run away and he pulled his brother by the collar and shot him in the head."
The defendant was arrested some two months later in July 2021, according to People magazine. The Fresno Police Department, in a statement, said Robert Cotter's account was "inconsistent with the physical evidence obtained during the investigation."
Robert Searched the Web for Information on How to Stage a Suicide
Additionally, authorities noted, the defendant had performed a bevy of tell-tale internet searches. Robert Cotter took to the world wide web to determine how to stage what looked like a suicide, as well as how deeply police would investigate an apparent suicide.
When confronted with the incongruities, the defendant confessed to planning out the killings, the FPD said, making "admissions, to detectives, about planning and acting out the brutal murders."
"I don't know what his issue was with his father that caused him to want to commit homicide, but to execute his brother?" Superior Court Judge James Kelleysaid during a sentencing hearing reported by Fresno ABC affiliate KFSN. "It was cold-blooded murder of a kid that had done nothing wrong."
Robert's Attorney Argued that His Client had a 'Traumatic' Upbringing
A motive behind the slayings is not yet known Cotter's defense came the closest to offering a rationale. "Mr. Cotter had a difficult upbringing," attorney Emily Takao said. "I think it would be characterized as traumatic."
The defendant originally pleaded not guilty but later changed his plea to no contest in late May of this year, according to the Fresno Bee. When pressed by the judge as to whether he was confused about what his plea change meant, he reportedly replied: "No, your honor."
Robert Cotter was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole over the murders and was given an additional 50 years to life in prison sentencing enhancement for using a gun to kill his father and brother.