LITTLE ROCK—After almost two weeks of trial, a federal jury has found two drug dealers guilty of their involvement in conspiracy that resulted in the murder of a federal informant. Don Smith, 38, of Malvern, Arkansas, and Samuel Sherman, 38, of Batesville, Arkansas, were found guilty when the jury returned their verdict late Tuesday evening. Chief United States District Judge D. Price Marshall, Jr., presided over the trial, and Judge Marshall will sentence Smith and Sherman later.
Both Smith and Sherman were convicted of conspiracy to cause witness tampering resulting in death. Smith was also convicted of witness tampering resulting in death, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, and possession of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime resulting in first degree murder.
Smith and Sherman were originally charged in September 2019 in connection with the death of Susan Cooper, who had bought methamphetamine from Sherman but had begun working as an informant for law enforcement. In May 2016, Sherman was arrested and charged with selling methamphetamine to Cooper. As his case progressed, Sherman was released and permitted to work as an informant himself.
Though Sherman was supposed to be working as an informant, he had not provided enough information to help his case, and in September 2016, Sherman learned he was facing a significant federal prison sentence. Evidence at trial showed that upon learning this, Sherman called Smith, who was a methamphetamine dealer in the Malvern area. Smith had sold drugs to Rachael Cooper, who was Susan Cooper’s sister-in-law (they were married to brothers).
Cellular tower data presented at trial showed that shortly thereafter, Smith drove from Malvern to Batesville, where Sherman lived, and stayed in Batesville for approximately 40 minutes before returning to Malvern. On the way back to Malvern, Smith called Rachael. Rachael had been communicating with Susan about making arrangements for Susan to trade some hydrocodone pills for methamphetamine. Susan did not know the trade was with Smith.
That night, Rachael picked Susan up and drove her to meet Smith for the drug exchange. Rachael testified at trial that as they waited, she heard a gunshot followed by Susan crying out “I’m shot—get me out of here!” Rachael jumped in the driver’s seat and saw Smith shoot Susan several more times. Smith pulled Susan from the truck as Rachael sped away.
For a year and a half, Susan Cooper’s body had not been found. In July 2018, Smith was charged in state court with the murder, and after his arrest, a witness came forward to disclose Smith had demanded he help bury the body. This witness took federal agents to the location of Cooper’s body.
“Rest assured that any attempt to harm a federal witness will be met with swift and forceful justice,” said Jonathan D. Ross, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. “Our entire system of justice is based on the ability of witnesses to speak truthfully in open court. Any attempt to prevent a witness from doing so—especially an attempt that results in a witness’s death—will be investigated and prosecuted. We appreciate the work of the many agencies who collaborated to bring this brutal crime to a resolution.”
“The conviction of Sherman and Smith sends a clear message to all who conspire to commit murder in our district: we will work together with our federal, state, and local and law enforcement partners to see that anyone involved in this type of horrific crime is brought to justice. This case highlights the impact multiple agencies can have when they join forces,” said DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jarad Harper.
“Smith and Sherman callously planned the brutal execution of Susan Cooper in an effort to protect their criminal activity,” said FBI Little Rock Special Agent in Charge James Dawson. “In response to the murder of a federal informant, FBI agents joined forces with DEA investigators, Malvern police detectives, and Hot Spring County Sheriff’s deputies to bring Smith and Sherman to justice. This case highlights the value of law enforcement partnerships and proves that the FBI and our partners will use every available resource to investigate and pursue criminals who harm or intimidate federal witnesses.”
The statutory penalty for conspiracy to cause witness tampering resulting in death is life imprisonment, as is the penalty for witness tampering resulting in death. Neither Smith nor Sherman will be eligible for release.
The investigation was conducted by the Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Office, Malvern Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the FBI. The case involved significant collaboration between the Hot Spring County Prosecutor’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Anne Gardner and Bart Dickinson.