Metro-East News

ESL murder victim’s Facebook post: ‘If anything happens to me tonight...’

Montrell Cooper faces first-degree murder charges in the death of Michelle Rowling. Prosecutors alleged Cooper slit Rowling's throat.
Montrell Cooper faces first-degree murder charges in the death of Michelle Rowling. Prosecutors alleged Cooper slit Rowling's throat. Provided photo

In a Facebook post, Michelle Rowling wrote that if anything happened to her, she wanted her children and her mother to know that she loved them.

She followed up by saying by the time she called the police, she would be dead.

Rowling apparently had reason to believe it.

Five days after the posting on Facebook, she died from a slit to her throat. Prosecutors say she was murdered by her boyfriend, Montrell Cooper, who is headed for trial and has pleaded not guilty.

Cooper had cut Rowling’s throat before, according to court records.

The legal system became a part of Rowling’s and Cooper’s relationship in February 2012, when Rowling said Cooper asked to see her Facebook account and cell phone because he suspected she was cheating on him. She tried to leave. He grabbed her and put her on the couch and dragged a knife across her throat, according to criminal charges.

“If I can’t have you, no one will,” Cooper told Rowling.

She recounted his remark in a request for a protective order.

She escaped, fleeing to the East St. Louis Police Department. She was transported to Saint Louis University Hospital for treatment.

Cooper was charged with aggravated domestic battery and aggravated battery.

Rowling failed to follow up on her request for an order of protection.

She didn’t appear in court and the temporary order expired on March 27, 2012.

But she came back on Oct. 25, 2012, and filed another petition asking for a court order to keep Cooper away.

In that request, Rowling wrote that Cooper, the father of her then-3-year-old daughter, threatened her with a gun and fired it several times.

She was granted a two-year order barring Cooper from contacting her.

“I am afraid of Montrell Cooper. I want no part of this man. Please help. I am afraid of losing my life. Please protect me and my two children,” Cooper wrote in her request for a protective order.

Despite that order and being placed by two separate judges on probation for abusing Rowling, prosecutors say Cooper took a knife on Dec. 5, 2013, and sliced Rowling’s neck for the second time in two years.

This time, Rowling didn’t survive.

“There needs to be greater attention paid to lethality assessment, which grades the potential for homicides in domestic violence cases,” said Deb Mize, former director of the Violence Prevention Center in Belleville. “As professionals we want to believe that it won’t go further, but we need to have an idea that it could.”

On Jan. 16, 2013, Cooper appeared in front of former Circuit Judge Michael Cook. He pleaded guilty to aggravated battery in exchange for prosecutors dropping a charge of aggravated domestic battery.

There was no agreement between the defense and prosecutors regarding the sentence. Cooper could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison.

“I have a paper from her (Rowling) saying that she — she don’t want to do no time that she — that she forgave me,” Cooper told Cook.

Prosecutors asked for five years, but Rowling refused to appear in court.

Cook sentenced Cooper to 30 months of probation.

Prosecutors started asking for a probation revocation in July 2013, stating Cooper racked up some traffic tickets and wasn’t abiding by his court-ordered curfew.

But Circuit Judge Robert Haida released Cooper.

In September 2013, prosecutors again asked for Cooper’s probation to be revoked because he pushed Rowling in a Schnuck’s store. They filed a new felony charge — domestic battery, subsequent offense.

Cooper pleaded guilty to that charge on Nov. 25, 2013.

Circuit Judge Zina Cruse sentenced him to 20 months of probation, including an anger-management course. She also ordered that he be evaluated for drugs, alcohol and domestic violence.

He was sentenced to time served — given credit for the 87 days he spent in St. Clair County Jail waiting to go to trial on the charges. He was getting out.

“No contact with victim, if there is an order of protection, except through a court order,” Cruse wrote. “If no order of protection, no contact with the victim, except through defendant’s parents or grandparents and only as it relates to the children or through court order regarding the children,” Cruse wrote.

St. Clair County State’s Attorney Kelly declined to discuss the details of the case due to Cooper’s upcoming trial, which is scheduled for September.

“There are some who grumble or even strongly disagree with prosecuting domestic violence cases without the victim’s full cooperation, as we have in many cases. But if we have evidence we must act because the consequences can be unspeakable,” Kelly said.

Cooper’s attorney, Thomas Q. Keefe III, said: “Mr. Cooper continues to have the presumption of innocence accorded to him by our Constitution. This will remain until trial, and I am confident that the jury will continue his presumption until the state proves him guilty.”

Rowling had a protective order in effect when she wrote the Facebook post.

But she was still afraid.

She wrote the Facebook post the day after Cooper got out of jail.

It isn’t clear whether Rowling let Cooper into her apartment in the Gompers Homes in East St. Louis the night she was killed. Mize said there could be any number of reasons. They had a child in common. They knew each other for years.

“We need to stop blaming the victim and start putting the blame on the abuser,” Mize said.

Rowling’s neighbors were saddened by her death. Outside her home, they assembled a shrine to the 25-year-old mother of two with flowers and stuffed animals.

Cooper, with police looking for him, came to the site. Mize said he set it on fire.

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