On a February evening almost 20 years ago, 10-year-old Kevin Cooney watched his mother point a .357 Magnum revolver at his father and pull the trigger three times.
Her ex-husband had attacked her with a kitchen knife in their Florida home, Linda Cooney told police, and she killed him in self-defense.
Kevin's trial testimony, which differed in important details from what he originally told investigators, was instrumental in her acquittal for first-degree murder.
Five months ago, Clark County prosecutors say, she pointed the same .357 Magnum at Kevin, now 30, shooting him once and leaving him partially paralyzed.
Again, Linda told detectives she had been attacked -- this time by her 6-foot-9-inch son, a bouncer at a Strip nightclub.
And again, prosecutors don't believe her. They have charged Linda, 64, with attempted murder.
After first being released on bail, she is now in the Clark County Detention Center after a Las Vegas judge on Friday held her in contempt for violating an order that she have no contact with Kevin.
Justice of the Peace William Jansen also chastised Kevin's younger brother, Las Vegas police officer Chris Cooney, saying he believed Chris had facilitated a phone call from their mother to her critically injured son.
In the end, Linda Cooney's guilt or innocence may once again hang on Kevin's testimony. So far, however, he's told detectives he doesn't know who shot him.
In 1992, Linda and James Cooney were engaged in a custody battle after a bitter divorce.
According to reports from the Palm Beach Post and the Sun-Sentinel in Florida, the couple married in 1979. He was a wealthy attorney from a prominent Florida family and she was a legal assistant from Milwaukee.
The rocky marriage lasted nine years, with James filing and withdrawing divorce papers twice before the two finally separated in 1988. For the next four years the two battled over child support, visitation, and alimony.
He accused her of keeping the children from him. She accused him of physical and verbal abuse, not paying $67,000 in alimony and child support, and neglecting the boys.
On Feb. 7, 1992, the divorce reached a boiling point.
James won a motion to force Linda to undergo a psychological evaluation, claiming her behavior was unstable and irrational, and that she could be a danger to the boys.
To support that claim, he submitted a lawsuit filed by an ex-boyfriend of Linda's, who accused her of slashing tires, harassing his friends, calling his grandmother to say she would be put in a nursing home and even climbing onto the balcony of his home to turn on a propane valve to create a fire or explosion.
Later that day, James arrived at her home to pick up his sons, whom he had not seen since Thanksgiving.
James and Linda immediately started arguing. Then shots were fired.
Kevin called 911. Linda picked up another line and called an attorney. When she realized that a 911 operator was listening, she said her husband had attacked her and she had shot him.
Investigators questioned inconsistencies about the crime scene.
James was found face up with an 8½-inch, white-handled kitchen knife in his right hand. It was pointed toward his chin. Police believed anything in his hands would have fallen to the ground after he was shot three times.
And Kevin had told them that his father had nothing in his hands when he looked at his lifeless body.
Investigators also learned James had provided a $1 million inheritance for his two sons, but Linda would have no access to the money. The key probate documents, which he carried, were missing.
Prosecutors theorized that Linda planned to kill him to gain control of the boys and their inheritance. They said that after shooting him, she rolled the body over and planted the knife.
A grand jury indicted Linda for first-degree murder two months later.
She was released on $75,000 bail and permitted to live with her two sons until the trial. Prosecutors opposed Linda's custody of the boys, fearing she would influence their testimony.
A judge ordered her not to discuss the case with the children despite prosecutors' warnings that the order was unenforceable.
Out of custody, she sued her ex-husband's estate for $67,000 in back child support. Another judge tossed that lawsuit when the estate proved James had paid the amount and then some.
SHODDY POLICE WORK
At Linda's trial, a forensic expert testified that James was retreating with his hands up when he was shot. The first two shots struck him in the left shoulder and in the right armpit.
Linda fired the third, fatal shot to the back of his head, rolled the body over and planted the knife, the expert said.
The trial revealed some shoddy police work. Gunpowder residue was found on his palms, but jurors later said they were skeptical because the knife was never tested, which would have shown whether he had it in his hands when shot.
According to Palm Beach Post reports, jurors based their verdict on Kevin's testimony.
Kevin testified his mother was screaming at his father in the hallway of the home, and pulled out the gun from her pants. His father said "What is that?" and ran toward his mother, Kevin testified.
His mother backed against a wall and fired.
Asked if his father had a knife, Kevin said he didn't know if it was a knife but that he saw something with a "glary shine," according to newspaper reports.
Again asked if his father had a knife in his hands when he saw his father's body on the ground, Kevin said, "I don't know," the Sun-Sentinal reported.
Twice before, he had told police that his father had no knife.
Linda was acquitted. Jurors told reporters that evidence could not disprove her claim that James had a knife.
"I wasn't guilty of this and I'm glad the jury understood," she told reporters. "I just want to go home and be with my boys."
The next day, she requested $1,000 from the boys' trust fund. She wanted to take them to Disney World, the Palm Beach Post reported. The trust agreed the boys needed a break and gave her $600 for the getaway.
MOVE TO LAS VEGAS
In 1995, the James Cooney Trust purchased a home on the 8600 block of Sierra Cima Lane in Summerlin.
Kevin graduated in 2000 from Palo Verde High School, a member of the school's first senior class. His senior yearbook shows two photos of him, his class portrait and another of him proudly standing in front of a monster he created for display.
Chris graduated the next year from Palo Verde, where he was on the mock trial team.
Both attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and continued to live at home.
Neighbors say the boys' favorite holiday was Halloween. They spent months on garish costumes based on Hollywood blockbuster movies, including characters from "Transformers," "RoboCop" and "Predator." And they won thousands of dollars in valley costume contests.
In September 2002, Las Vegas police were called to the home after a report of domestic violence. According to a police report, Linda and Kevin were arguing when she grabbed a kitchen knife and slapped her son on the wrist with it. He wasn't cut. She then slapped him in the face with her hand, the report stated.
Kevin then grabbed a .45-caliber handgun and told his mother to stay away from him.
Linda called police, but she was the one arrested. Police also impounded seven guns.
The case was later dropped.
Neighbors say it wasn't the only time police have been called to the block. Multiple police cruisers would respond to calls generated from the home, neighbors said.
Since Jan. 1, 2000, police have responded to 31 calls from the Cooney home.
Four neighbors spoke to the Review-Journal on the condition of anonymity. They described Linda as confrontational, harassing and a loose cannon who was prone to screaming at neighbors.
One said she was "always in everyone's business." She would call the police or animal control if a neighbor's dog was barking for too long. She would also walk around the block with a note pad, jotting down homeowner association violations.
"If you farted in the neighborhood, she would call the police," the neighbor said.
Neighbors said they felt it was best to just avoid any contact with her. One neighbor described waiting for Linda to retrieve her mail, go home and close the door before venturing to the mailbox.
Neighbors described Kevin and Chris as quiet and polite. They often dressed in a Gothic style, wearing black clothes and long coats, reminiscent of the film, "The Matrix."
Around their mother, neighbors said, the boys never said anything.
When there was a confrontation involving Linda, however, it was Kevin who would be "backing her up," two neighbors said.
WARNINGS ABOUT MOTHER
Chris became a Las Vegas police officer in 2008, and Kevin worked as a bouncer at nightclubs on the Strip, most recently at Studio 54 at the MGM Grand.
Kevin's imposing height and dark dress conflicted with his personality, say friends, who describe him as funny, gentle and gregarious.
At Insert Coins, a downtown bar where Kevin moonlighted as a host prior to the shooting, general manager Darryl Laxson describes him as hilarious and outgoing: "He was just a good time. You never heard anyone say anything bad about him."
Last March, Kevin began a romantic relationship with Karina Taylor, an aspiring mixed martial arts fighter.
She declined to talk about the case when contacted by the Review-Journal.
Court documents show they had known each other for several years before they began dating.
Kevin's friends warned Karina about his mother. "You don't wanna meet Kevin's mom because she is crazy," a friend of the Cooney brothers told her, according to court records.
Those documents show that even Kevin had warned Karina about his mother, saying, "I hope my mom doesn't freak out on you." Linda had run off other girlfriends, but Karina insisted everything would be OK, she told detectives.
Karina met Linda a few times in May, once while shopping with Kevin, and again at a birthday dinner at Benihana. A photo on Facebook showed Chris, Linda, Kevin and Karina together at the restaurant. All were smiling.
But as Karina and Kevin continued to date, Linda began to sabotage the relationship, court records revealed.
Kevin told his girlfriend that his mom had put a block on his cellphone so he couldn't receive calls or text messages from her, case documents show. Then Linda sent disapproving text messages to Karina.
Kevin and Karina stayed in touch through Facebook.
Laxson recalled a conversation with Kevin about problems at home over the relationship. Laxson said Kevin felt he was being torn in two directions and was trying to be the peacemaker.
On June 27, Karina told Kevin his mother was sending messages to the head of a local nonprofit organization called It Ain't Chemo, where Karina is a board member. The organization helps provide cancer patients with supplies and emotional support, and is run by a local firefighter named Kevin Hoyt.
Hoyt showed police the messages from Linda.
"The texts are stating that Karina Taylor is a stripper and a whore and is trying to take her son away from the family. One quote is 'this one is the worse than all the others combined. Tenacious, desperate, incorrigible, no job, no education, no family, no dad, a true succubus,' " a police report showed.
Hoyt received Linda's text messages at 3:17 a.m., 3:52 a.m., and 4:25 a.m. on June 28.
Four hours after the last text, officer Chris Cooney called 911 to report his brother had been shot.
'IT'S MY FAULT'
Chris told the dispatcher "his mother just called him and said she was attacked by his older brother at his house and then she shot him," according to the police report.
The dispatcher asked if Linda shot Kevin, or if Kevin shot himself. Chris said he did not know.
A minute before, Linda had told another 911 dispatcher that Kevin had been shot in the neck with a handgun.
The dispatcher asked Linda if somebody shot her son or if he shot himself. "Linda replied 'No, no I'm scared to say something,' " the report states, and the 911 call ended.
When police arrived, Chris was outside the Summerlin home. Linda was on a couch in the living room. Kevin was on the floor in a pool of blood.
An officer asked him if he was OK. He responded: "I'm shot. It was an accident."
The officer asked Kevin who shot him.
Kevin closed his eyes and didn't answer.
A sobbing Linda was helped outside of the home while paramedics worked on Kevin.
"It's my fault. It's my fault. The gun. It's my fault," she said, according to the police report.
Detectives spoke to Chris, who had little to add other than when he came home from his patrol shift, he had found his mother hovering over his brother.
Linda tried to give him a handgun covered in blood, the police report stated, but he refused to touch the gun and told his mother to set it down.
Chris would not give a recorded statement to police.
In a taped interview with detectives, Linda first told them she didn't know what part of the house she was in when Kevin was shot. She later said she was getting a bottle of water in the kitchen.
She said she didn't hear a gunshot, a bang or anything. She recalled hearing Kevin say, "Mom."
Linda said she found him in the living room, on the floor with a towel under his head and his knees up. There were no guns near him, she told police. Earlier that morning, about 1 a.m., she said she had gotten up to use the bathroom, and that she and Kevin began arguing about Karina.
Linda told detectives he yelled at her, grabbed her, and threw her on the couch. She said Kevin had his hand clenched and had a black semi-automatic handgun in the back of his pants.
"He continued yelling at her and punched her in the chest, causing a large bruise," a police report quotes her as saying.
Detectives asked about her repeatedly saying "It's my fault."
She said "that she was quoting what her son Kevin said to her. He told her 'Mom, it's my (expletive) fault.' "
The detectives asked if Linda could recall Kevin ever talking about hurting himself.
She said he had talked about it because Karina was breaking up with him.
Court records are unclear on the status of Kevin and Karina's relationship.
At University Medical Center, detectives interviewed two physicians who treated Kevin on the day of the shooting.
Kevin had two wounds from the single gunshot. The bullet went in the front of his neck near his vocal chords and exited left of his spine at shoulder level in a downward trajectory.
Both physicians said that judging by the entrance wound and burn marks on his skin, the gun probably was fired from a few feet away.
Two nurses from UMC's intensive care unit told detectives that Kevin did not want his mother to visit him anymore.
According to a police report, Kevin mouthed the words to the nurses: "I'm scared. No mom. Mom shot me."
Ten days after the shooting, detectives returned to UMC. Kevin was still in intensive care, and had tubes in his mouth and neck. The detectives asked Kevin who shot him.
He said he didn't know, the police report stated.
An arrest warrant was issued for Linda on Aug. 1, and included a statement by Karina that on two separate visits to the hospital, Kevin said his mother had shot him.
Kevin had been transferred to Progressive Rehabilitation Hospital when Karina went to visit him Aug. 2.
On her way to his room, Karina was confronted by Linda.
According to a police report, Linda said that she believed Karina was there to attack Kevin, and she tried to block his girlfriend from going to his room.
A struggle ensued and police were called.
"Linda stated (Karina) struck her multiple times on her right arm and leg with closed hands and her left foot causing visible injury," the report stated.
After reviewing security footage of the incident, however, police determined that Linda had attacked Karina.
Linda was charged with misdemeanor battery and is to appear before Justice of the Peace Deborah Lippis on Feb. 8.
MOTHER'S VISIT UPSETTING
Two weeks ago, prosecutors discovered that Linda had violated a Sept. 20 court order by contacting Kevin.
Deputy District Attorney Shanon Clowers said she was concerned Linda was trying to influence Kevin's testimony, which echoed what Florida prosecutors had expressed after James Cooney was killed in 1992.
On Monday, a judge ordered Linda locked up, pending an evidentiary hearing four days later.
At Friday's hearing, two Progressive Hospital employees testified that Kevin's condition had markedly improved since Linda has not been allowed to see her son.
But Donna Muir Hatch, a respiratory therapist at the rehabilitation facility, testified that on Nov. 8, she found Kevin extremely anxious, agitated and crying hysterically.
When asked what had upset him, Kevin told Hatch it was "talking to my mother."
Hatch said Kevin needed to be calmed down with medication.
She also said that Kevin told her his brother Chris had held a cellphone to his ear with his mother on the line.
Chris testified for the defense at the hearing. Asked if he held a cellphone to his brother's ear so his mother could talk to him, he repeatedly said, "I don't recall specifically having done so."
He also testified that he has lodged a complaint with state and federal agencies about Kevin's care.
Chris said even before the Sept. 20 court order, hospital staff had tried to limit his and his mother's visits. Asked if the hospital staff was making up what happened on Nov. 8 in retaliation for the complaints he and his mother have filed, Chris said, "I wouldn't doubt it. It's fiction. I would never do anything to upset my brother."
Judge Jansen was clearly agitated by the younger brother's testimony about the telephone call: "Now either you did or you didn't do it. Now this business of you can't recall, I don't buy, because this happened about 10 days ago."
Jansen then asked Chris if he facilitated the call.
"I don't believe so, judge," Chris said.
Clowers asked Jansen to hold Linda in contempt of court, raise her bail on the attempted murder charge to $250,000, and force her to pay for it with her own money. Her original $100,000 bail on that charge was posted by Chris. Linda is not employed, and her lawyer, Edward Miley, said that her sons financially support her.
In her closing argument, Clowers said Chris' testimony was understandable: "One of the hardest things you can do is pin a son against a mother ... but at some point it's the responsibility of the state of Nevada to protect the victim."
Miley said there wasn't enough proof to keep Linda Cooney in jail. He said the rehab hospital is being investigated, based on serious complaints by Kevin's family.
"They have a reason to at least try and cover it up," he said. "They have taken it upon themselves to sequester Kevin" from his family.
But mostly, Miley objected to the prosecution not producing a statement from Kevin.
Jansen held Linda in contempt and ordered her jailed for 25 days. Once that is completed she will be free on the $100,000 bail.
He warned her, however, that if she tries to contact Kevin or threatens any witness, he would revoke her bail.
Jansen said he found the testimony of the two hospital employees very credible, but added, "I don't think the son, Chris, is telling the truth."
Chris would not comment about Friday's hearing. Linda has declined a Review-Journal request for an interview.
On Halloween, the Cooney brothers costume contest ritual went on without Kevin. Chris and a friend created a costume based on a character from Iron Man 2, called War Machine. It was Kevin's idea.
And at Insert Coins, a customer showed up in a costume based on a Transformer's character, similar to a costume Kevin had worn years ago.
Laxson said it depressed Kevin's co-workers. "We miss him," Laxson said.
Kevin has made significant progress in recent days, his rehab therapists said. He is being weaned off a ventilator system and can speak clearly, though only in whispers. On Thursday, he sat up in bed for the first time, they said.
Kevin's condition is described as an incomplete quadriplegic, meaning he has some movement in his arms and legs.
Whether Kevin will be called to testify against his mother at her Feb. 6 preliminary hearing for attempted murder remains unclear. While others could testify Kevin told them his mother shot him, Kevin has declined to implicate her, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, Karina is melancholy on her Facebook page. An August message reads, "Can't sleep. Heart and brain hurt! Might be time to leave Vegas!"
While declining last week to speak about the case, she did offer one thing: "I love him and miss him and I'm still out here waiting for him."
She was crying.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039.