CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Two years ago when the homicide numbers in Charlotte started to rise, the murders of Ruby and Curtis Atkinson Sr were especially gruesome. Investigators told WBTV the crime scene was bloody and horrific.
Thursday afternoon, one of the defendants stood before a judge and accepted a plea agreement.
Nikkia Cooper’s guilty plea ended one chapter for the Atkinson family but in no way will it ever ease the agony.
"I'm just trying to take grip with it for what it's worth and ride it out" said Curtis Atkinson Sr’s older brother, Ralph.
Prosecutors say on an April Sunday morning in 2017, firefighters were called to the house on Glencannon Road for a fire alarm. After they kicked in the door, they found burnt food on the stove and pile blankets on the hallway. When they sifted through the blankets, they found the Atkinsons - dead. And, blood spatter around the house.
Investigators say the couple had been dead for days.
Ruby Atkinson had gunshot wounds to the neck and top of her head, and 17 stab or puncture wounds to her upper body.
Curtis senior had 69 puncture wounds, broken teeth and his body had been decomposing.
Ralph Atkinson said as he listened to the details in court, he couldn’t help but think “it was a son hurting his dad and his mom – wow."
Prosecutors say Cooper and her boyfriend, Curtis Atkinson junior lived in the house with the bodies for two and a half days. When the fire alarm went off and the granddaughter pretended she didn't know the code to disarm the alarm, the couple fled when they heard emergency crews in the neighborhood approaching the house.
The couple’s granddaughter told police that days before investigators found the bodies, her grandfather had picked her up from school. She said she went to her room to do homework.
Her uncle, Curtis junior and his girlfriend, Nikkia Cooper were asleep. But then a short time later, she heard yelling and when she went to her bedroom door – she saw her grandfather on the floor, bleeding. She said her grandmother was on the kitchen floor, also bleeding.
The granddaughter said Atkinson junior and Cooper made her watch as they stabbed her grandfather over and over. They then kidnapped her and took her Washington, D.C.
Police in D.C say the couple called bargaining the little girl in exchange for food and gas, and that Cooper could be heard in the background threatening to kill the young girl.
When he stood before the judge in court to give a victim impact statement, Ralph Atkinson said “he feels a lot of pain for what happened to his baby brother and his sister-in-law” but he has already forgiven the two charged with the crime. “I want her (Cooper) to know that I will continue to care for her because she has a soul.”
The case against Curtis Atkinson junior is still pending. He's facing the death penalty.
Through tears, Cooper told the Atkinson family she was sorry for the hurt and pain she caused, and that she accepts full responsibility for her part.
Cooper apologized to her children and family and asked for “forgiveness and mercy.”
Cooper’s defense attorney told the judge that her 27 year-old client suffered from post-traumatic stress and was abused as a child by her father.
The defense said Cooper completed her G-E-D and drug counseling while in jail awaiting the completion of her case.
Bobby Reynolds, who says he knew Cooper before she was arrested and has been visiting her in jail every Sunday, says it was abuse by Atkinson, junior that prevented Cooper from stopping the murders.
“That’s not her character at all,” said Reynolds. “We have to know what abuse is for women to get out and not stay in a relationship where fear controls you.”
In exchange for pleading guilty, prosecutors reduced each of Cooper’s first degree murder charge to second degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon.
Judge David Phillips sentenced Cooper to 270-to-336 months for each murder charge, which Cooper has to serve consecutively. And, 80-to-108 months for the robbery charge, which she will serve concurrently with the murder sentence.
Cooper also received 785 days credit for time served during pre-trial.