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Fulton Daily News

Magazine Sales Company Settles With Murder Victim's Family For $1 Million

By Heidi Webb/Fulton Daily News
Fulton, New York

Diane Cooper's daughters Monday morning signed a $1 million settlement of their lawsuit against Palmetto Marketing, Inc., the Florida-based company whose employee murdered Cooper in May of 2000.

Cooper was murdered in her Fulton home by Matthew Maxson, a door-to-door magazine salesman. Police believe Cooper had let the young man into her home. She was stabbed with a knife and with a broken bottle.

Maxson was later arrested at a Syracuse ares motel where he and his fellow door-to-door salesmen were staying. He is serving 15 years to life in prison.

Cooper's daughter, April Searor, cried as she and her sister, Kimberly McMillan, signed the paperwork sealing the deal in Surrogate Court Judge John Elliott's courtroom.

"It's bittersweet," said Kimberly. "But at least now the company will have to make changes to their policy and make background checks."

Had Palmetto done that, said attorney Elden Rosenthal, the company would have discovered that Maxson was fired from at least two jobs for misconduct and was a chronic drug and alcohol abuser. Rosenthal headed the legal effort on behalf of Cooper's family and has handled several cases involving violence and door-to-door sales.

"This is a terrible problem," said Rosenthal Monday afternoon. "Unless this industry takes care of it there will be more tragedy and lawsuits."

He said that many of these firms hire young people without checking for questionable background, and though not all of the firms are disreputable, some dangerous people will get through.

A call to Palmetto Marketing wasn't returned. The company denied in a May 31, 2000 article in the Daily News that Maxson was ever an employee of the company. A call to a trade association for the industry also was not returned.

Said Kimberly McMillan, "If they don't want to do business right, they shouldn't be doing business at all. There was no reason for this to happen."

The money will go toward making their lives as secure as they can - even if they will never be the same again.

"We're going to do with it what my mother would have wanted," said Kimberly. "She always wanted us to have our own homes and be secure and we will, but we wish she could be here to see it."

Both women admit that things have been very different in their own homes since the death of their mother.

"My sister never used to lock her door," said April. "I still have baseball bats at every door and our kids are telling all their friends about what happened to Gramma: be careful, watch out."

"It's true, I always kept my doors unlocked," Kimberly agreed. "Now, I jump at every knock at the door."

The family and their local counsel, Attorney Bruce Soden, wanted to extend their thanks and gratitude to the local law enforcement who handled the case.

"We owe a big debt to the Fulton Police, who, working with the Sheriff's Department and some State Police, did an absolutely superb job" said Soden. "They were so thorough and very speedy."

"Their excellent police work started this process," he continued. "They gave us the leads and means to get a suitable recovery for the family."

He said that a special thanks should go to Chief Assistant District Attorney Donald Dodd.

"He spent a lot of personal time and nights tracking down Maxson," said Soden.

Soden also said that magazine marketing firms such as Palmetto are not mandated by Congress to perform background checks.

"They really ought to do so," he said. "They are basically dropping strangers off in a neighborhood."

The salesmen most likely have a quota to be filled by the time the company van returns hours later to pick them up.

Soden said that Maxson did not make his quota that day and had run through most of the $20 advance the company had given him.

He went to Cooper and asked if he could use the bathroom. When he did not emerge, she went in and found him with her jewelry.

"He said that he went there with the intention of stealing something," explained Soden. "When she came inside and caught him, he said he decided he had to kill her because she was a witness to his theft."

Kimberly said that she was unaware that there were no laws requiring background checks and that she has found her passion.

"I'm not afraid to go before Congress," she said. "This needs to be done. Anyone who wants to help me will be welcome."

For them, the money doesn't mean closure, it means they can finally begin grieving.

"There's no sense of closure," said Kimberly. "We still haven't heard 'I'm sorry'- not that we'd accept it, but at least we would see that there is some sense of remorse."

Kimberly and April said that they had a very close relationship with their mother and that their children did too.

"We're just glad that they had that relationship with her, even though it was for such a short time," Kimberly said.

"Now we'll get on with the mourning process," she said. "Sometimes we still think she's here and then we have to take a deep breath. I still can't walk past her house."

Copyright 2002 by Fulton Daily News. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Fulton Daily News

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Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.
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