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Teen Who Tried to Blame Autistic Younger Brother for ‘Cold-Blooded’ Family Murders Is Sentenced to Life in Prison


Robert Cotter appears in a mugshot

A California teenager will spend the rest of his life in prison for a double murder he tried to blame on his autistic younger brother, one of the victims.

Robert Cotter, 19, shot and killed his father, Patrick Cotter, 53, and his younger brother, Brian Cotter, 15, in their Fresno, Calif. mobile home in May 2021. The defendant himself called law enforcement to report their deaths. He blamed his younger brother for the slayings.

“I don’t know what his issue was with his father that caused him to want to commit homicide, but to execute his brother?” Superior Court Judge James Kelley said during a sentencing hearing reported by Fresno ABC affiliate KFSN. “It was cold-blooded murder of a kid that had done nothing wrong.”

Authorities said Cotter’s plan to pin things on his brother fell through once police determined the victim’s wounds were not consistent with suicide.

“He called 911 and he blamed his murders as a murder-suicide perpetrated by his 15-year-old brother with autism spectrum disorder,” Fresno County Deputy District Attorney Daniel Walters reportedly told the court. “His brother woke up, started to run away and he pulled his brother by the collar and shot him in the head.”

The defendant was arrested some two months later in July 2021, according to People magazine. The Fresno Police Department, in a statement, said Robert Cotter’s account was “inconsistent with the physical evidence obtained during the investigation.”

Additionally, authorities noted, the defendant had performed a bevy of tell-tale internet searches. Robert Cotter took to the world wide web to determine how to stage what looked like a suicide, as well as how deeply police would investigate an apparent suicide. In the end, police in the San Joaquin valley city dug a bit deeper than he thought.

When confronted with the incongruities, the defendant confessed to planning out the killings, the FPD said, making “admissions, to detectives, about planning and acting out the brutal murders.”

Still, a motive has proven elusive.

“(We’re) trying to figure out why this happened,” a semi-anonymous family member who was only identified as the defendant’s aunt told KFSN in September 2021. “What we could’ve done to stop it. And I love Robbie and I hope he knows he’s loved. But we just don’t know why.”

During the sentencing hearing, Cotter’s defense came the closest to offering a rationale.

“Mr. Cotter had a difficult upbringing,” attorney Emily Takao said. “I think it would be characterized as traumatic.”

The defendant originally pleaded not guilty but later changed his plea to no contest in late May of this year, according to the Fresno Bee. When pressed by the judge as to whether he was confused about what his plea change meant, he reportedly replied: “No, your honor.”

Robert Cotter was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole over the murders and was given an additional 50 years to life in prison sentencing enhancement for using a gun to kill his father and brother.

[image via Fresno Police Department]

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