Sadness Over Mistrial Felt on Campus

Times Staff Writers

Students and faculty at Cal State Fullerton generally expressed sadness Tuesday that the murder trial involving the death of a faculty member had ended inconclusively.

In various interviews, the students and faculty noted that the case has caused controversy and extensive publicity, and many said they dreaded the prospect of more of the same.

"When there is a tragedy such as this, one wishes it could be over and things could move on," said Keith Boyum, chair of the university's Faculty Council.

An Orange County Superior Court judge declared a mistrial Tuesday when jurors reported they were "hopelessly deadlocked" in the murder trial of Minh Van Lam, 21, a former student of physics Prof. Edward Lee Cooperman. Cooperman was shot to death in his campus office on Oct. 13.

John Beisner, president of the Associated Students, the campus student government, said: "A large group of students here feels sorry for the people who are suffering--for the people involved who want to get on with their lives. I wish the case would have been decided . . . . I think there's this feeling (on campus) of, 'Oh, no, here we go again,' " he said in reference to the possibility of a retrial.

The death of Cooperman has been a source of grief and controversy on the campus since the shooting. Assorted police and investigators flocked to the campus while conducting their investigation; they in turn were followed by a legion of reporters.

"There's been so much wide speculation about this case in the news media, especially the print media," said Jerry Keating, the campus's director of public affairs. "A lot of that speculation was cast aside as the case entered trial. But what this has done is divert public attention from the positive things going on at this university . . . . It (the mistrial) just delays the day of resolving the issue."

Concern Over Reaction

The case has been doubly controversial for the university, campus representatives said, because the man accused of the killing of Cooperman was a student. When Lam was first arrested, university officials said, there was concern that there might be some reaction against all of the large Vietnamese student body on campus.

But student body president Beisner said Tuesday that that fear never materialized. "It has not caused any problems as far as students going against other Vietnamese on campus, and I think that shows the real maturity of our students here," he said.

Nonetheless, the puzzling case has caused Cal State Fullerton to stand in the glare of notoriety, Beisner noted. "We were not the cause of this murder," he said. "It just happened here. It could have happened anywhere."

Walt Baranger, managing editor of the campus newspaper, The Daily Titan, noted that Cooperman's death came only a few months after another professor, Richard Smith, had been arrested and charged with the murder of a former student's ex-husband.

"For a while, there was a kind of amazement among the students, like saying, 'What next?' " said Baranger. "But it could have happened anywhere."

Baranger, 29, a communications major from Lake Elsinore, has covered the Cooperman case for The Daily Titan from the time of the death through the mistrial. "Considering so much of the evidence was contradictory, it (the mistrial), in retrospect, isn't surprising," Baranger said. "The trial was anticlimactic. After so many political theories and sexual innuendoes were spread before the trial, nothing came of them. They weren't brought up during the trial, and the jurors I talked to (after the mistrial) said the things they were interested in were things like the blood pattern in Cooperman's office, not the political theories that the news media were so interested in."

Scores of Vietnamese students on campus Tuesday declined to comment to reporters about their feelings on the mistrial.

Khanh Bui, 19, a freshman mechanical engineering student from Irvine, was one of the exceptions. In a brief interview, Bui said, "I don't think they should try him again. It's a pretty confusing case. It might be a waste of time and money (to retry the case)."

Mistrial Disappointing

Another male Vietnamese student, who declined to give his name, said: "I think they need to find the true evidence . . . the facts. I feel sorry for both of them (Cooperman and Lam). We don't know exactly what happened."

Dorothy Woolum, chair of the physics department, where Cooperman worked, said Tuesday that the mistrial was "disappointing because now everyone will have to go through that again." She said that Cooperman "was very much loved and respected" and that his death has been painful to the university. Another trial, she said, "will be an ordeal to the faculty and the staff."

Boyum, the chair of the Faculty Council, also said that the university community's grief would be intensified with the prospects of a second trial.

"I think it (Cooperman's death) has been kind a wound to the faculty," he said. "It was the loss of a valued colleague. One wishes that it didn't happen, that it would go away."

And Rhonda Florence, a CSUF senior from Anaheim, summed up the sadness of many on campus Tuesday afternoon when she told a reporter, "I think they ought to let it go. There's a lot of controversy involved."

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