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Daughters protest father's deathbed marriage

BEATTYVILLE — Hours before he died on June 10, while he was lying unconscious in bed, Denton Cooper was remarried to his second wife.

Now, three daughters by his first wife want a judge to declare the marriage to Izetta Johnson void and remove her as the administrator of his estate.

The daughters — Crystal Mays, Shena Reece and Cassie Taulbee, all of Lee County — say in an application to nullify the marriage that "any pretended ceremony" was and is "a mockery."

"My dad would have never done this," Reece said. "We didn't even know they were married until we went to the funeral home the next day," when Izetta Johnson Cooper mentioned it while arrangements were discussed.

Izetta Johnson Cooper and her attorney, Charnel Burton of Booneville, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, a Lee District Court judge asked attorneys to submit legal briefs and scheduled a Jan. 19 hearing.

The daughters' complaint, filed this month, says their father "was as incapable as a dead body of being a husband in any legal, rational or moral sense."

The daughters say Cooper, 59, was dying of esophageal cancer and was under the influence of narcotics and other medications. As a result, he did not have the capacity to consent or comprehend any marriage ceremony, the complaint says.

"He couldn't raise his hand up. He couldn't speak," Mays said. "He couldn't recognize his children. ... His mouth just hung open."

Izetta Johnson, 52, was married to Denton before, but they were divorced about 20 years ago, Reece and Mays said. Denton was married three times before the deathbed marriage, Mays said. Johnson had been living with Denton Cooper for perhaps a year and is living in his house today, Mays said.

"When he got cancer, she kinda floated back into his life," Mays said.

Denton Cooper apparently made a mark on the marriage license with Izetta's assistance, Mays and Reece said, and the mark was then witnessed by an uncle and brother, who also signed the document.

The daughters said they learned of Izetta's assistance in making the mark from their attorney, James T. Harris of Lexington.

Johnson and Denton Cooper were married by Garrett Thomas, pastor of Beattyville First Church of God, according to the marriage certificate filed in Lee County.

Mays and her sisters arrived at the house while the preacher was saying a prayer; Denton Cooper was in a hospital bed in the living room of his two-bedroom house. "We thought he was already gone and they were praying over him," Mays said.

Denton Cooper died of heart failure at 9:35 p.m. June 10 at his home, perhaps a couple of hours after the ceremony, Mays said.

On July 14, Izetta Johnson was appointed as the administratrix of Cooper's estate. Cooper, a laborer who drove a garbage truck for the city of Beattyville, left behind few possessions.

A description of assets in the court file lists a 1998 Chevrolet truck, a 2003 truck, a house and land, a living room set, two bedroom sets, a television, gardening tools, an air compressor, a riding mower, various tools, table and chairs, a stove and a refrigerator. The one-page description totaled $26,775.

"Just for the record, it isn't about money or property, because our dad was not rich," Mays said. "He was just a Southern man who worked all his life. He was a very proud man, and that's what it's about.

"Our dad was the type of man that did what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it, and nobody told him what to do."