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Published: 06:45 AM, Tue Aug 24, 2010
By Paul Woolverton
The family of Lewis Berlin Hilpert is mystified that he is charged with the murder and robbery of Edward Starr Cook III, saying that the men were friends.
“I don’t think he did this,” said Lewis Hilpert’s mother, Elizabeth Hilpert of Fayetteville. “The Lewis that we know would never ever, ever, ever do something like this.”
The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office thinks Lewis Hilpert, 29, shot Cook, 51, and left Cook’s body in woods near Cook’s home. Cook lived in a mobile home south of Linden, near the Cape Fear River.
Robbery was the motive, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
A spokesman for Cook’s family could not be reached Monday.
Lewis Hilpert appeared in court Monday afternoon. District Court Judge Tal Baggett explained the charges he faces, the potential punishments – including the death sentence – and granted his request for a court-appointed lawyer. His next court date is scheduled for Sept. 9.
If Lewis Hilpert was involved in Cook’s death, Elizabeth Hilpert said, it may have been related to medication he takes for post traumatic stress disorder and depression following a difficult deployment to Iraq in 2007 when he was in the Army.
Or, she said, it would have been to defend himself or someone else.
Cook and Hilpert had been close for at least eight years, Elizabeth Hilpert said.
“He was a father figure for him – a second father,” she said. “They spent many, many weekends together. Lewis would help him on his land. He had a garden. They were clearing some of the land. They had similar hobbies.”
The men enjoyed guns, target shooting and the outdoors, said Hilpert’s sister, Mellenie Milone.
“My brother was over there all the time,” she said. “They shared guns back and forth. They played games together all the time.”
Court documents say Hilpert attempted to steal $3,000 worth of property, including guns, military gear and a video game console.
“There’s no reason for my brother to go in and steal what he already had frequent access to,” Milone said.
Born in Berlin, Germany, Lewis Hilpert comes from a military family that settled in Fayetteville 28 years ago when his father, Lawrence, was stationed on Fort Bragg, Milone said.
Hilpert attended Pine Forest High School but didn’t graduate. Instead, he earned a general equivalency diploma, or GED, from Fayetteville Technical Community College in spring 2004.
Elizabeth Hilpert said her son is smart but wasn’t academically oriented.
Lewis Hilpert worked several jobs after high school, she said. He worked for an exterminator, for Methodist University as a custodian (Cook worked there, too, as a grounds maintenance supervisor) and for a home electrician.
He quit the electrician company to join the Army, she said.
“He loves his country and wanted to serve and wanted to protect his family and everything he loves,” Milone said.
Hilpert graduated from basic training at Fort Sill, Okla., in 2006 and joined the 82nd Airborne on Fort Bragg, although he was not a paratrooper.
Head injuries, trauma
Elizabeth Hilpert said Lewis Hilpert suffered head injuries at least twice in 2007 during a 15-month deployment to Iraq: once during a mortar attack, she said, and once in a truck accident. Those and other injuries from his deployment still cause him pain, she said.
Hilpert was traumatized by seeing his sergeant killed in an explosion and by other violence he encountered, his mother said.
Lewis Hilpert was discharged from the Army because of his medical issues and was listed as 40 percent disabled, she said.
Unemployed, Hilpert had a roommate for a while, but he eventually moved back with his parents and looked for work, Milone said. He had income from military disability payments, she said.
Elizabeth Hilpert said Lewis was worried about Cook the weekend before his body was found because he couldn’t reach him by telephone. He and several other men checked on Cook at his home but couldn’t find him, she said.
Lewis Hilpert was upset Wednesday when he learned from news reports that Cook had been killed, Elizabeth Hilpert said.
“He kept saying over and over, ‘That’s my best friend. That’s my best friend,’ ” she said.
Investigators began talking to him, she said, and he allowed them to search his truck and the family home. They collected a 9 mm bullet, she said.
On Friday, Elizabeth Hilpert said, Lewis went to the Sheriff’s Office to take a polygraph test. He was arrested while on his way down a hall for the test, she said.
Staff writer Paul Woolverton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (910) 486-3512.