A Gila River prosecutor is outraged that a tribal judge released a convicted car thief with a long criminal history weeks before he allegedly hacked an Ahwatukee man to death. "I am absolutely furious about this,'' tribal prosecutor Sheldon Stewart said Nov. 21. "But there isn't much we can do.'' It's still unclear whether federal or county officials will prosecute the case and whether the two murder suspects could escape the death penalty. James L. Cooper, 21, is accused with another suspect of killing 66-year-old Larry Leon Vannoy after stealing his truck from his driveway Nov. 18 in Ahwatukee. Mesa police stopped Cooper for drunken driving early Sunday, behind the wheel of Vannoy's truck. Tribal Judge Spencer Thomas had released Cooper 20 months before he completed his sentence in the tribal jail. Cooper's 3-inch thick criminal file details a long criminal history of assaults, jail escapes, car thefts and probation violations. He was sentenced Dec.21, 1999, to five years in jail, with no possibility of probation. Cooper was to be released in July 2004. On Oct. 11, Thomas sentenced Cooper to 4 1/2 years probation and walked out of jail three days later. Thomas has refused to comment on the case.
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