Guidance counselor testifies in trial of Madalina Cojocari’s stepfather

CHARLOTTE — The first witnesses have been called to the stand in the trial for Christopher Palmiter, the stepfather of missing Cornelius girl Madalina Cojocari.

Madalina disappeared at age 11 in November 2022.

In April, Palmiter pleaded not guilty to failure to report the disappearance of a child. Madalina’s mother, Diana Cojocari, pleaded guilty to the same charge on Monday and was released from jail the next day.


Palmiter’s defense team has theorized in court documents that Diana was trying to flee the country with Madalina, with help from her mother and her cousin.

The jury for the case was solidified on Friday. Attorneys selected 11 men and one woman. Seven of the men are dads.

The story below is being updated as the trial continues. Scroll for the latest:

Opening arguments

Opening arguments for both the defense and prosecutors began Friday afternoon. The state of North Carolina was first to present.

“23 days,” Assistant District Attorney Austin Butler began. “23 days went by and he didn’t know the location of Madalina Cojocari,” he said while pointing at Palmiter.

Butler said Madalina’s guidance counselor, who called Palmiter but he never answered, will take the stand. She left him a voicemail, and Butler said that voicemail will be played. The counselor finally left one saying, “If you do not call me back, I’m coming to your house.”

Butler said the counselor went to the house and left a truancy packet after nobody answered. She never heard back from Palmiter at all.

Butler went on to say once Madalina was reported missing, Palmiter gave a detective four possible places Madalina may be. Butler told the jury they will see the recorded body camera video of the conversation, which captured the reasons Palmiter gave the detective, per Butler:

  1. She may be at a friend’s house, but he couldn’t give the name.
  2. Palmiter said he’s heard in the news that kids get kidnapped and maybe that happened.
  3. He thought she’d be in school
  4. Madalina has been in her room for the past 23 days.

Palmiter’s defense attorney, Brandon Roseman, started his opening statements by saying the state has made numerous assumptions about what happened in this case. His opening was brief but asked the jury to be fair.

Roseman said he is a parent himself who at times hasn’t seen his children in 24 hours because he’s been working. He said that’s a different thing than 23 days, but said regardless, the state doesn’t have the full story.

First witness: Bus driver

The first witness the state called was the driver of the school bus Madalina was last seen on. Tina Rorie said she remembered Madalina’s name because, “her name was Madalina and my name is Tina.”

“She always thanked me when she got off the bus,” Rorie said.

“I didn’t see her smile a lot,” she also said.

Rorie said she would always see Madalina run from the bus to her house when she would get off, then would see her go in her house.

When asked if she’d ever see Madalina with any adults, Rorie said she once saw Madalina walk down the street with who she thought was her dad.

Rorie said she remembers Nov. 21, 2022 as the last time Madalina was on her bus. The jury was shown surveillance video from the bus from the day Madalina was last seen — on Nov. 21, 2022. Rorie just got choked up when asked to identify Madalina from the video of her last bus ride.

Second witness: Guidance counselor

Danice Lampkin, the guidance counselor from Bailey Middle School who went to Madalina’s home to check on her, took the stand second.

Lampkin said she didn’t know Madalina personally but she was on her roster at the school. She said Madalina came under her radar when she started looking at her attendance. Lampkin said she stayed on top of things like this.

Academically, Madalina was doing fine, she said.

Madalina’s school schedule was shown in court. Lampkin got emotional, seemingly holding back tears, as she talked about it. Next, Madalina’s student enrollment form was shown. Lampkin took a minute to wipe tears from her cheeks.

The court was shown a document that lists Palmiter as Madalina’s father, along with his contact information. The document showed that both Diana Cojocari and Palmiter were able to pick Madalina up from school.

The emergency contacts for Madalina were Palmiter and someone else who was not authorized to pick Madalina up.

Madalina’s birth certificate from out of the country was also shown to the court. The father portion of the birth certificate is notably blank.

Lampkin went on to say that Madalina started to have some unexcused absences. To be proactive, she started to reach out.

After Nov. 21, Lampkin said she made several calls, more than three or four, to Madalina’s parents. Those calls included ones made to Palmiter. She said Palmiter never answered the phone and she never spoke to him on any of the calls. She said she sent emails to Palmiter, too.

The jury heard voicemails left by Lampkin on Palmiter’s cellphone. The first call was on Nov. 30, 2022. In it she says in part, “I see she’s been out. Just checking on her and making sure she doesn’t get behind on school work.”

On Dec. 1, Lampkin called Palmiter again. In part she said, “I’m calling to check on her and make sure she’s OK. I hope to see her at school tomorrow.”

On Dec. 7, she made another call to Palmiter.

“She’s absent today. I want to touch basis to make sure she’s OK so she doesn’t get too behind at school,” Lampkin said in the voicemail. “I need to touch bases with the parents so I do not have to make a home visit.”

Then on Dec. 13, Lampkin made another call to Palmiter.

“Please give me a call when you get this,” she said in the voicemail. “If I do not get a return call back in the next few minutes, I will have to make a home visit. I see she’s missed a lot of school and we want to make sure she’s successful.”

ADA Butler asked Lampkin if she had tried contacting that other emergency contact listed for Madalina. She said she did and that they were the only person the school had heard back from. They told the school that Madalina was sick.

The court took a quick recess after the voicemails were played. When they returned, Butler continued questioning Lampkin.

After she called the other emergency contact, Lampkin said the school was notified through an online portal that Madalina was out due to illness and her absences were then excused.

Lampkin said she dropped off a truancy packet at Madalina’s house in Cornelius after the calls and emails to Palmiter went unanswered.

Lampkin said she was finally able to get Diana on the phone on Dec. 14, the day after she dropped off the truancy packet. She told Diana that she needed to bring Madalina to the school so she could see her.

When Diana arrived the next day at the school, Madalina was not with her. Lampkin said she called in a school resource officer at that point because Diana finally told her Madalina was missing. She said Palmiter also later came to the school and met with the SRO.

“What went through your mind that day?” ADA Butler asked.

“Oh my God, where is this child?” Lampkin said.

Butler asked if Madalina was ever seen at school after that.

“No, no she was not,” Lampkin replied while wiping tears off her face.

Lampkin said Madalina was never reported missing to her or the school before that moment on Dec. 15, and that if she would have been reported missing to the school before that, she would have known as she was her guidance counselor.


Palmiter’s defense attorney began cross-examination by pointing to one of the documents. Although both Diana and Palmiter are listed, he pointed to the bottom where it is signed by Diana as the legal guardian. Palmiter’s signature is not there.

Roseman pulled up the enrollment document. At the end, there is room for the legal parent/guardian to sign it. He says only Diana did. He then asked Lampkin if she knew whether Palmiter had any legal guardian rights to Madalina. She didn’t know.

Roseman asked if Lampkin knows whether Palmiter ever received any of the calls or emails she sent him, and she said she didn’t know. Roseman was making a point that it’s not clear whether Palmiter ever actually received those communications.

Roseman asked about legal guardianship, aiming to question whether Palmiter was responsible for Madalina’s attendance or her enrollment.

When Roseman asked Lampkin if she remembered seeing or hearing anyone at the house when she dropped off the truancy packet, she said no.

The court recessed just before 4:30 p.m. Friday until Tuesday at 11 a.m.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

(WATCH BELOW: Madalina Cojocari’s mother pleads guilty to failing to report her disappearance)

Hannah Goetz

Hannah Goetz, wsoctv.com

Hannah is a reporter for WSOC-TV.

Hunter Sáenz

Hunter Sáenz, wsoctv.com

Hunter is a reporter for Channel 9.

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