FARGO — A Moorhead man has pleaded guilty to murder in the fatal drive-by shooting of 20-year-old Gabriel Perez outside a McDonald’s restaurant in Fargo.
Miguel Jay Cooley, 44, appeared in Cass County District Court on Thursday, Aug. 22, where he entered a guilty plea on a Class AA felony count of intentional murder. Consequently, a trial slated to begin in September has been cancelled.
About 5:20 a.m. on Sept. 23, Cooley drove his vehicle to the McDonald’s on Main Avenue in Fargo and fired a gun at Perez who was sitting on a curb, according to court documents and information provided in court hearings.
At Thursday’s hearing, prosecutor Joshua Traiser said Cooley fired three rounds at Perez and that the medical examiner found Perez had been struck three times. Traiser said the medical examiner concluded the gunshot wounds were the cause of death.
Traiser said Cooley fled the Fargo area after the shooting and was arrested the next day in Mower County, Minnesota.
Court records show investigators believed Cooley became jealous over a possible relationship between his wife, Izetta Cooley, and Perez. But Izetta Cooley previously told The Forum that no such affair existed.
Cooley will be sentenced at a later date yet to be determined. Cooley’s attorney, Steven Mottinger, notified Judge Steven Marquart during the hearing that there was a joint sentencing recommendation from the defense and prosecution.
The recommendation, which the judge does not have to abide, is for Cooley to serve 35 years in prison out of a 50-year sentence. The remaining 15 years would be suspended for a period of supervised probation, which will be determined at the time of sentencing.
Perez's grandfather spoke at Thursday's hearing and asked Marquart to ensure that Cooley gets a long prison sentence.
"Mr. Cooley took the life of my grandson," he said. "He is a menace to society .... What he did was very cowardly."
The maximum possible sentence for a Class AA count of intentional murder is life in prison without the possibility of parole.