Posted on Wed, Aug. 30, 2006
Sister: Former Marine accused of killing woman, self was trying to start anew

By Kate Brumback

KENNESAW - In the decade since he was convicted with two other U.S. Marines of raping a young Japanese girl, Kendrick Ledet tried to put Okinawa behind him by starting anew in his native Georgia, his sister said.

That all ended this month when Ledet killed himself after allegedly strangling and raping a co-worker.

"He came home to get a fresh start," his 42-year-old sister Kim Bashir said. "He wasn't going to let what happened over there come back with him. He wanted people to accept the new person that he came home to be."

Ledet made headlines in September 1995 when he was among three Marines accused of raping a 12-year-old school girl in Okinawa, a crime that sparked mass protests against the U.S. military. All three were convicted, and Ledet was sentenced to 6 years in prison.

Bashir said her younger brother never talked about what had happened, but she had always hoped he would one day talk to her about it.

Police in Kennesaw, a suburb north of Atlanta, said that 31-year-old Ledet strangled 22-year-old college student Lauren Cooper sometime during the weekend of Aug. 19 before slitting the arteries in his own arms and bleeding to death in her apartment.

There was evidence Cooper was sexually assaulted before she was killed and hit in the head, said Brian Frist, a Cobb County medical examiner. Police are continuing the investigation and awaiting results from the autopsy, officer Scott Luther of the Kennesaw Police Department said.

Bashir said some of Ledet's friends have told her that he and Cooper, a junior studying marketing at Kennesaw State University, were friends who left a party together on the night of Aug. 18 to go back to Cooper's off-campus apartment together.

A manager at Zucca Bar & Pizzeria in Smyrna said Ledet and Cooper worked together there and said that Ledet was a nice guy but declined to comment on their relationship.

Cooper's parents, who live in nearby Woodstock, discovered the bodies in their daughter's bedroom when they went to check on her after they hadn't heard from her for days. That was two nights after the party where Ledet and Cooper were last seen. Her father, Jack, had to kick in the door to the apartment in a gated community.

He said Monday that the family has retained two attorneys to further investigate his daughter's death because he disagrees with the way Kennesaw police is treating the case as "open and shut," leaving "too many holes in the story."

Luther said he wasn't aware of the family's complaints and that the case isn't closed.

Jack Cooper declined to comment further, referring further questions to his wife's brother, Alan Pulliam, who said in a prepared statement that Lauren Cooper did not plan for Ledet to be in her apartment. Rather, police told the family the last text message found on her phone was "I'm stuck with him," apparently because Ledet didn't own a car, Pulliam said. Family members found the phone in Cooper's apartment covered in blood and gave it to police, Pulliam said, adding the family doesn't know whom the message was sent to or whether other calls were placed around the time of her death.

"This was NO accident," Pulliam said, adding that his niece was "savagely beaten in the head, raped and strangled to death with a forearm on her neck."

"Lauren was the type of person who loved and befriended everyone. This was also her fatal flaw. She assumed everyone who was nice to her was a good person with good intentions," Pulliam said.

Lauren Cooper's funeral was held Saturday at Mount Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta.

Bashir said that, in the years since her brother returned from Japan, Ledet had worked hard to improve his life. He worked in the kitchen at two restaurants - at Zucca and at a branch of Houston's steakhouse - to earn enough money to buy himself the BMW he had always wanted and to move into his own apartment in Smyrna.

Ledet initially entered the Marines because he wanted to prove to himself that he could earn a place with what he considered to be the most challenging branch of the military, Bashir said. "He's such a helper," she said. "He wanted to go out and fight for his country."

Bashir said she has fond memories of Christmas Day last year when her brother and other family members came over to her home and they laughed and kidded around as they set the table and ate dinner.

"He always tried to make people laugh," she said.

Bashir said she doesn't understand what could have led her brother to kill Cooper and himself.

"This is really out of character for him," she said.

Bashir said she never met Cooper, but she has been told that she was "a great young lady with a great personality."

"My heart goes out to them," said Bashir, a mother of three grown children. "We both are grieving for someone we love. I wouldn't have wanted this to happen to one of my daughters. I pray for them to have strength, and I hope they can have some kind of closure."

Associated Press writer Giovanna Dell'Orto contributed to this report.