C The "52-cent murder" trial took an ironic twist yesterday with testimony that Denise Cooke lay dying on a Pigtown street with $84 in her pocket -- a sum that might have saved her life on a summer night in 1995 when a gunman demanded more than spare change.
But the victim's husband, Stephen Cooke, told jurors his wife had no idea she was carrying that much money because she was wearing her daughter's jeans.
Their daughter, Kimberly Cooke, 23, a cashier at a local Safeway, said in an interview that her mother would have willingly surrendered the cash had she known it was there. "The money would not have mattered at all," she said.
Cooke, 47, who was with his wife when she was shot, took the stand in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday and told of being accosted by a gunman demanding money at 3: 30 a.m. Aug. 8, 1995, at Washington Boulevard and Bayard Street.
Cooke met the glance of the 23-year-old defendant, Leon Yukem Noel, and said there was "no doubt whatsoever" that Noel was his wife's killer.
He also rejected defense attorney Maureen Glancy's suggestion that he might have been influenced by seeing a picture of the suspect in the newspaper.
Robber's 'striking' eyes
"His eyes were so clear, so big, so striking to me," Cooke said.
Cooke testified that Noel approached the couple moments after they had walked his sister-in-law home and addressed him first by saying, "Give it up."
When Cooke emptied his pockets, showing no money, he testified that the gunman then turned to his 44-year-old wife and said, "You'd better have some money, or I'm going to blow your head off."
Cooke, a CSX brakeman who had worked until 2 a.m., described his wife as "frozen stiff" with fear. He said she disregarded his three pleas to run after he shoved the gunman into a lamp post and tried to shield the woman he was married to for 25 years.
"My main thought was to worry about my wife," Cooke said. "He never should have hit her. It should have been me."
He said his back was to the gunman when the shot rang out and his wife fell. As he ran to her, Cooke said, he heard footsteps echo down Bayard Street, where he lived.
Second robbery of night
The prosecution says this was the second robbery Noel committed that night. On Tuesday, Amelia Mendigorin identified Noel as the man who robbed her and a companion of $65.
In cross-examination, Glancy pointed out to Cooke that he had not told police in a statement that his back was turned when the shot was fired, and that he had estimated the gunman's age as 30 to 40.
But her most revealing question was whether Cooke was "aware" that his wife was carrying $84. He replied, "No, I didn't find out until later" from police.
Prosecutor Gary D. Schenker asked Cooke the reason why neither he nor his wife knew about the amount.
He answered that his wife changed her clothes that night, after returning home from playing bingo with her mother.
"She changed clothes right in front of me," said Kimberly Cooke, one of 15 family members at the trial. "I play it over and over in my mind, what if I were the one to walk her [aunt] home."
The Cooke family felt so safe in their Pigtown neighborhood, she added, that her parents often left their door unlocked, even the night her mother was killed.
"My friends called her Mom," said Stephen Cooke Jr., 25, of his mother, who worked at a Super Fresh store as a cashier. "Everybody just loved her."
The trial will resume today, and is expected to continue into next week.
Pub Date: 1/17/97