Man convicted of killing Spencer valedictorian executed Thursday night

spedersen@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 21, 2013 

Andrew Allen Cook once told a friend he wanted to see if he could kill and get away with it, according to testimony during his 1998 trial.

Eighteen years after he killed former Spencer High School valedictorian Michele Cartagena and her boyfriend, Grant Hendrickson, Cook, now 38, was put to death by lethal injection at 11:22 p.m. Thursday night at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson.

According to the Associated Press, Cook apologized to both his family and the victims' families.

For his last meal, he requested steak, baked potato and potato wedges, fried shrimp, lemon meringue pie and soda.

Cook was the first inmate to be executed since the state changed its execution procedure in July from a three-drug combination to a single dose of the sedative pentobarbital.

After having their plea rejected by the Georgia Supreme Court earlier Thursday afternoon, Cook's team filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, which began reviewing the plea around 6 p.m., an hour prior to the scheduled execution.

Attorneys informed the media around 10:35 p.m. the highest court denied the stay of execution.

Cook allegedly confessed to at least four people, including his father, a former Macon-based FBI agent, that he killed Cartagena and Hendrickson.

The killing

Once a Ledger-Enquirer Page One nominee, Cartagena, an only child, was born in California. Her father, Luis, was a lieutenant colonel in the Army, retiring at Fort Benning.

She played softball, volleyball, tennis and ran track.

According to the Macon Telegraph, Hendrickson, also an only child, was an honor graduate at Tattnall Square Academy.

Cartagena and Hendrickson were students at Mercer University in 1995.

Studying liberal arts, Cartagena was a 19-year-old sophomore, and Hendrickson, 22, was a senior majoring in engineering and physics.

After spending a few days with Cartagena's family in Columbus, the two returned to Macon before school resumed.

According to Ledger-Enquirer reports, they went to see the movie "I.Q." at Rivergate Cinema in north Macon around 9 p.m. Jan. 2, 1995. The movie ended around 11:15 p.m.

In Cartagena's new Honda Civic that her parents gave her as a Christmas present, Hendrickson drove to a scenic parking spot known as "lovers lane" on Lake Juliette in Monroe County.

According to court documents, it was there that Cook fired 19 shots -- five from a 9 mm handgun and 14 from an AR-15 assault-style weapon -- into the driver's side. Bullets struck Hendrickson in his hip and left shoulder, and one bullet hit Cartagena in the back of the head.

Although Hendrickson was dying from the bullet that tore through his shoulder and into his chest, Cook leaned into the car from the passenger side and shot him in the top of the head with a pistol, officials said.

"He executed him with that 9 mm pistol," Tommy Floyd, the district attorney for Monroe County, said during the trial.

Cartegena was probably still alive, Floyd said, when Cook drug her 40 feet from the vehicle.

Months of investigation

Through interviews with the people close enough to hear the shots, Monroe County Sheriff John Cary Bittick said investigators were able to determine the shootings occurred at about 12:30 a.m.

"People heard the shots they said the shots woke them up but nobody called (the authorities)," Bittick said in 1995.

A camper nearby who spotted headlights the night before saw the car after the sun rose.

When he went to check, he found Hendrickson slumped on the front seat and Cartagena on the ground, both dead of multiple wounds.

Almost immediately investigators had a detailed description of a car seen near the area before the shootings and driving on a highway headed away from the area after the shootings.

The car was a Honda CRX, model year somewhere between 1985 and 1987, blue over gray with a spoiler, wide tires with five-point star rims, tinted windows and white windshield wiper blades. Witnesses even described an Albany Warriors sports team sticker in the rear window and identified the Georgia license plate as possibly being from Dougherty County.

After a year had passed, the number of investigators on the case dwindled down to two. In September 1996, a popular NBC show "Unsolved Mysteries" aired an eight-minute segment on the case.

Still no progress.

"Yes, I did"

During the investigation officers began following 9 mm pistols and AR-15s on the pawn market throughout Georgia.

Investigators found a rifle that had been pawned in Macon. It had changed hands three times when officers recovered the gun in Twiggs County.

After being tested in the state crime lab in Macon, it was confirmed officials had one of the murder weapons, and the owner who first pawned the rifle was Andrew Cook.

According to court documents, Cook sold the 9 mm to a friend.

DNA evidence also connected Cook to the crime. Tobacco spit, a match to Cook, was found on Cartagena's leg.

On Dec. 4, 1996, Cook's father, John Cook, received a call from a GBI agent in reference to the Lake Juliette slayings. At the time the elder Cook wasn't sure where Andrew was, but they spoke later in the evening.

This is how John Cook told officials the conversation with Andrew Cook went:

When the FBI agent called his son, John Cook asked, "What is all this about, Andy?"

"I can't tell you, Daddy. You're one of them," Andrew Cook replied.

"What do you mean, 'one of them?'"

"You're a cop."

"Andy, I'm your father first. ... Do you know something about the Lake Juliette murders?"

"Yes, I do."

"Were you there?"

"Yes, I was."

"Do you know did you see the shooting?"

"Yes, I did."

"Did you shoot them?"

"Yes, I did," the agent recalled his son telling him.

Andrew told him he was fishing at the lake when a car pulled up with a guy and a girl inside. He got into an argument with the guy, who pulled a gun, so he shot in self-defense, then threw the manís pellet gun into the woods, Cook said his son told him.

Guilty

Andrew Cook was found guilty in March 1998 by a jury of seven men and five women.

He was given the death penalty for the murder of Michele Cartagena and life in prison without parole for the murder of Grant Hendrickson.

One of the first appeals the defense filed was to throw out Andrew Cook's father's testimony. Andrew Cook's attorney said John Cook was acting as an agent of the state during the admission.

His conviction was upheld in March 1999.

The Georgia Supreme Court rejected Cook's plea for stay for a second time Thursday.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Cook's lawyers had asked the justices to spare him the death penalty. They asked for life without the possibility of parole on the basis that he has changed and he is sorry for his crime.

After losing the appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, his lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was Cook's final option.

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