Pedophile who attended Scout meetings will go to prison

A convicted pedophile who was living with a Girl Scout troop leader when arrested last spring has pleaded guilty to Measure 11 sex abuse charges in connection with two cases in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Audie Bryan Cooper, 40, pleaded guilty today to unlawful sexual penetration in a case involving a Dec. 15 assault on a developmentally delayed adult. Judge Bill Purdy accepted Cooper's guilty plea and immediately sentenced him to eight years and three months in prison and 20 years of supervised probation. A lesser charge of second-degree sex abuse was dismissed.

"He pleaded guilty to the top charge, and he'll do the maximum," said District Attorney David Hoppe.

Cooper also pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual abuse in a second case related to a child. Details about the incidents were not revealed to protect the victims' identities, but they were not believed to have occurred at troop meetings.

Cooper will be sentenced for the second Measure 11 offense after an investigation is completed. He will serve additional time for at least a portion of the second mandatory prison sentence, he said.

"Mr. Cooper is going to be in prison for a very long time," said Cooper's defense attorney, Michael Bertholf.

Two Measure 11 convictions mean Cooper could end up with a life sentence if he offends again, Hoppe said.

Cooper was arrested on March 20 by Medford police at the home of Girl Scout troop leader Shannon Nilsson after a tip alerted police that Cooper, a registered sex offender in New Mexico, had failed to register in Oregon. Nilsson said she did not know Cooper had a history as a sex offender. She said he had attended meetings of her troop.

Candace Bartow, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of the Winema Council, knew about Cooper's arrest the same day but waited until the following week to send a letter to the parents of Troop 2036, which comprises about 10 young girls. Bartow said at the time it was her understanding that Cooper was a stepparent of a troop member. As a family member, he was not subject to the Girl Scouts' policy of performing background checks on all official volunteers, she said at the time.

Nilsson since has resigned as a troop leader.

Cooper had been held in Jackson County Jail on $1 million bail prior to today's conviction.

— Sanne Specht

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