Palmiter trial: Attorneys lay out closing arguments

CHARLOTTE — The trial for Christopher Palmiter, the stepfather of missing Cornelius girl Madalina Cojocari, is now in the hands of the jury.

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 last week 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 trial for Palmiter began last week. Scroll for the latest:

Friday: Closing arguments, case heads to jury

Closing arguments began Friday morning. Palmiter’s defense attorney, Brandon Roseman, started by thanking the jury.

Roseman said the state had to prove that Palmiter knew Madalina was missing. He said Palmiter didn’t know, and there’s a reason why: Because Diana was actively deceiving him.

Roseman said the state assumed the following:

  1. That it was impossible to now know Madi was missing for 23 days
  2. Chris and Diana had a normal relationship
  3. That they had normal communication
  4. They assumed Chris’s role in supervising Madalina

“[The state] has got to prove that Christopher Palmiter knew that she was missing. He didn’t and there’s a reason why and that’s because Diana was actively deceiving him,” Roseman said.

“He didn’t have that supervisory role. There’s no evidence he ever did. Diana wore the pants in this house. Diana controlled everything.”

Roseman said prosecutors also made these assumptions about Palmiter:

  1. Assumed his memory recall works like their does
  2. They made assumptions about when things happened
  3. About actions or statements without enough context
  4. They assumed Chris Palmiter was lying

Roseman alleged Diana gaslighted Chris into believing that Madi was home. He said she was actively trying to keep Chris out of the house.

Roseman noted the secret recordings that Diana made while talking with Chris. He brought up the text Diana sent Chris during the timespan saying, “We’re in town already,” alluding that Madi was with her.

“She’s talking about Madi as if she’s there,” he said.

Chris talked with Diana about the school issues, Roseman said, but Diana said she would handle it. He said Diana was in control and she’s the one who handles those issues; Chris doesn’t.

“Chris does not supervise Madi,” Roseman said. “Diana handles her school matters.”

Roseman concluded closing arguments by saying Diana is the one who is responsible for this. She pled guilty and Chris pleaded not guilty because he’s not guilty. He said there’s physical evidence that corroborates he knew nothing.

Next, Assistant District Attorney Austin Butler delivered his closing arguments. He started by saying kids typically don’t get to pick who their parents are or those who act like their parents. Madalina didn’t pick him to call dad, he said.

“He picked her,” Butler said as he pointed at Palmiter.

Butler said Palmiter promised to protect her. He said Palmiter was tasked with supervising Madalina and he failed, so that’s why he was sitting in his chair in the courtroom.

He told the jury the only thing to consider is whether the state has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt on whether Palmiter failed to report a missing child.

Butler played several clips from the first interview Palmiter had with Cornelius detectives. The prosecutor made the point that Palmiter told police he did not know where Madalina was, and that he told police he asked Diana if she knew and she didn’t know. Yet, he didn’t call police.

Butler also reminded the jury about the definition of disappearance of a child. North Carolina law says it means you don’t know the location of the child and have not had contact with the child for a 24-hour period. Butler said it says nothing about whether you know the child is safe, and he said the law doesn’t require that Diana tell the defendant that Madalina is missing.

Butler showed the last picture taken of Madalina on her school bus and said at the end of the day Friday, Madalina won’t be getting off that school bus. She’s not coming home from her last day of school looking forward to a summer of walks, bike rides, summer camp. It’s not happening today.

The ADA told the 12 jurors that, as the conscience of this community, they’re being asked to determine whether Palmiter failed to act as required by law. The state believes he’s guilty.

Around 12:30 p.m. Friday, the judge read the jury instructions, putting the case in the hands of the jury. They headed to the jury room to pick a foreperson and to decided to work through lunch.

Deliberations started before 1 p.m. Friday. The jury reached a unanimous verdict after fewer than 15 minutes of deliberation. READ MORE HERE.

Thursday: ‘I would protect her’

Palmiter finished with his testimony Thursday and Diana is expected to take the stand later.

During Thursday morning’s testimony, Palmiter got emotional talking about his stepdaughter.

“What would you do to protect Madalina?” Roseman asked.

“I would protect her up unto my own life, basically,” Palmiter said.

“Did you get that opportunity?” Roseman said.

Over the past few days, Palmiter has also been making claims against Diana.

He said she thought people were after her and Madalina.

Det. Gina Patterson, the lead detective in the case, said that Diana sent thousands of dollars back to her home country of Moldova in December.

“It was sent to Diana Cojocari’s mother in Moldova and also to a church or a priest in Moldova,” Patterson said Thursday.

Diana had been seen on surveillance video at businesses in the mountains in western North Carolina without Madalina at about that same time.

“He said, ‘I didn’t find out she was missing until a week after I got back,’” Peterson said.

That is a detail the jury will look at to determine when Palmiter knew about Madalina’s disappearance and whether he should have reported it.

Only Channel 9 was in court Thursday to ask Diana about those claims. However, she didn’t answer any of Channel 9′s questions.

The jury was dismissed for the afternoon. Closing arguments will be Friday morning.

Wednesday: Palmiter reveals where he thinks Madalina is

Palmiter has been adamantly claiming that he never knew his step-daughter was missing.

Two recordings were played out in court Wednesday. Roseman said they showed how Diana would harshly confront her husband about things during the timespan in which Madalina was supposedly missing.

In both recordings, Diana and Palmiter were arguing and she’d use Madalina’s name in the conversations. The defense said that showed Palmiter was led on to believe Madalina was with her mom during that timespan as he worked long days outside Greensboro and took a trip to Michigan.

Palmiter’s defense team tried to show the jury different examples of Diana talking about Madalina. At times, she said Madalina was sick or in her bedroom or sleeping during the timespan when police say she was actually missing.

Roseman tried painting a picture for the jury that Palmiter was led to believe Madalina was OK and at his house with Diana during that timespan.

For the first time, Channel 9′s Hunter Sáenz also heard what Palmiter thinks happened to Madalina.

“I think Diana took her somewhere with maybe her Moldovan family. I don’t know,” Palmiter said. “But I believe that Diana has tucked her away somewhere where she’s not going to be found.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, ADA Butler started his cross-examination, peppering Palmiter with multiple questions. He pointed out that Madalina called Palmiter “dad” and that he called her his “daughter” when talking with Cornelius police. The state was trying to show the jury he was Madalina’s father-figure and she was partially his responsibility.

The prosecutor also pointed out small things, wondering how Palmiter could have missed certain signs that Madalina was missing and wasn’t in their home.

“You remember how you would say you used to hear Madalina jumping on her bed, something she loved to do?” Butler said.

“Yes,” Palmiter said.

“Did you ever hear her jumping on her bed after you came back from Michigan?” Butler asked.

“I don’t think so.”

Cross-examination will continue Thursday.

Wednesday: Palmiter continues testimony

On Wednesday, we heard more from Christopher Palmiter, who testified for the second day in his own trial. He painted a picture for the jury of his wife, Diana Cojocari.

He told the jury that Diana was a very religious and often a suspicious person when it came to certain things. He said when asked what she did for work, Diana would tell people she “saved souls.”

Palmiter also told the jury in 2022, Diana became worried that Vladimir Putin and Michael Jackson were after her and Madalina, and that she wanted Palmiter to help hide them.

Roseman also started asking his client questions about the timeline — the three weeks between when Madalina was last seen publicly and when Diana reported her missing. He went day by day, trying to show the jury that his client thought Madalina was at their Cornelius home.

“Made pizza that night, made Madalina a plate and was going to bring it up but Diana took a piece off the plate saying Madalina wasn’t going to eat that much and put the slice on my plate and said she would take it up to her,” Palmiter said.

“So you believed Madalina was there?” Roseman asked.

“Yes,” Palmiter said.

Roseman also pointed to a day within the span in which Madalina went missing, when an AT&T technician was supposed to fix the internet at their home. With Palmiter at work, he said Diana never answered the door. He said when he got a cancellation text from AT&T, he texted Diana.

“Here on Dec. 4, you text Diana that an AT&T guy will be knocking and to handle it. She responds, ‘we’re in town already. Can they come tomorrow.’ What did that ‘we’ mean?” Roseman asked.

“Madalina and herself. Madalina and herself,” Palmiter said.

“Was that her way of saying she’s not home?” Roseman asked.

“Yes,” Palmiter said.

Tuesday: Palmiter takes the stand

The case was turned over to the defense Tuesday afternoon and they called their first witness to the stand: Christopher Palmiter. It’s the first time we’ve heard him answer any questions.

Roseman started off Palmiter’s testimony by asking his client three direct questions: “Did you harm Madalina Cojocari?” “Do you know where Madalina Cojocari is?” and “Did you know that Madalina Cojocari was missing?”

Palmiter answered “no” to all three questions. He answered several more questions from Roseman, at times becoming emotional while talking about Madalina.

Roseman began by methodically laying out how Palmiter met Diana Cojocari in 2008 while she was still living in her native country of Moldova.

“I met Diana on an online dating slash writing site,” he said, adding, “It was called Global Ladies.”

It was a slow and meticulous testimony, with Palmiter answering questions for about an hour about the work he did, how he and Diana first met online, when she and Madalina moved to the U.S., and how their relationship was over the years.

Palmiter said in 2010, their communication stopped.

“She had gotten pregnant with a local man and he didn’t want anything to do with her, so she contacted me just to say ‘I’m still out here,’” he said.

Palmiter said they picked up where they left off, got engaged, and he said Diana moved to the U.S. in 2015 with Madalina in tow. They eventually got married in 2016.

“My relationship with Diana, it was um — I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “It was my first marriage. The couple dynamic, and then one with a little girl was all new to me.”

He said their eight-year marriage became a companionship.

“Our romantic relationship was mostly spiritual. We were never romantic.”

The testimony centered around getting to know Palmiter, not about when he became aware Madalina was missing or about her disappearance. When it came to raising Madalina, he said that was all Diana.

“I’d go to work and Diana would make sure Madalina got up in time for school, she would make sure Madalina took a bath before she went to bed at night,” Palmiter said. “She was 100% in charge of Madalina’s education, the whole thing.”

At the same time, Palmiter told the jury Diana was getting more wrapped up in her spirituality over the last few years. He described seeing her engage in bizarre rituals, including taking part in chants inside the house and praying aloud at a rapid pace.

“There were certain rituals that she would do. She always said that she was fighting demons.”

He said through emotion that it began to take a toll on her relationship with her daughter.

“Diana would be doing her prayers and stuff. Madalina would always ask me to play with her,” he said. “I’d take her for bike rides, play games with her, take her down to the park.”

Palmiter is expected to take the stand again Wednesday morning and then prosecutors will be able to cross-examine him.

Tuesday: Prosecution calls final witnesses

Earlier Tuesday, the state rested their case. That came after they called their final witnesses to the stand: The Cornelius Police Department detective who interviewed Palmiter the day Madalina was reported missing, and the FBI digital examiner who looked through Palmiter’s phone.

Their testimonies rounded out the four witnesses called by the prosecution, which included Madalina’s guidance counselor and bus driver last week.

Prosecutors said workers at Bailey Middle School repeatedly tried contacting Palmiter and Diana Cojocari when Madalina didn’t show up for school for three weeks in 2022. When Diana eventually went to the school and told them Madalina was missing, police were called, including Det. Cpl. Bradley Nichols.

Christopher Palmiter also arrived at the school. Nichols questioned him inside the school resource officer’s office. In body camera video, Palmiter told Nichols he didn’t know where Madalina was, but said he had asked his wife about her whereabouts.

“Since noticing the daughter missing, have you and your wife had any communication about her being gone? Any conversations about where she is? Anything like that?” Nichols asks in the video.

“Yeah, I’ve asked where she is. She said she didn’t know,” Palmiter replied.

“So you didn’t know she was missing until right now?” the school resource officer asked.

“Right,” Palmiter said.

“Where did you think she was this whole time?” the SRO asked.

“I don’t know,” Palmiter said.

In court Tuesday, Palmiter’s defense team made the point that detectives didn’t know exactly when Palmiter asked his wife about Madalina’s whereabouts, arguing Palmiter may not have known at what point Madalina wasn’t around or missing.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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

Hunter Sáenz

Hunter Sáenz, wsoctv.com

Hunter is a reporter for Channel 9.

Jonathan Lowe

Jonathan Lowe, wsoctv.com

Jonathan is a reporter for WSOC-TV.

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