Craig M. Cooley


Craig M. Cooley is a solo practitioner and sole proprietor of Cooley Law Office, which has offices in Cary, North Carolina and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He's been investigating and litigating significant felonies, including death penalty, post-conviction DNA, and innocence cases for the last seventeen years. His cases have been profiled on 20/2060 Minutes, NBC Nightly News, and Investigation Discovery. With a graduate degree in forensic science, Mr. Cooley has lectured nationally training defense attorneys how to challenge forensic identification evidence and to litigate post-conviction DNA testing motions.  


On May 23, 2018, Mr. Cooley's longtime Innocence Project client, John Kunco, received a new trial - and walked out of prison for the first time in 27 years - based on new DNA testing results that proves he could not be the perpetrator who brutally raped an elderly New Kensington woman in December 1990.  Mr. Cooley extensively litigated Mr. Kunco's innocence claims the five years he represented Mr. Kunco.  


On May 1, 2018, Mr. Cooley's North Carolina client, Paul Eldred, had his DWI conviction vacated by the North Carolina Court of Appeals because the State failed to prove Mr. Eldred was legally intoxicated when he wrecked his vehicle the night he was arrested.


On July 18, 2017, Mr. Cooley's North Carolina client, Robert Carter, had his PWISD-meth conviction and maintainting a dwelling/building for keeping/selling a controlled substance conviction vacated by the North Carolina Court of Appeals based on trial counsel's failure to timely move to dismiss both counts on insufficiency counts.  The case number is State v. Robert Carter, 802 S.E.2d 917 (N.C. App. 2017). 


On March 28, 2017, Mr. Cooley and his co-counsel Paige Forster of ReedSmith won a major post-conviction victory before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Shawn Burton, 158 A.3d 618 (Pa. 2017).  The Supreme Court remanded Mr. Burton’s case back to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing on Mr. Burton’s innocence claim. 


Mr. Cooley also recently won a significant victory in North Carolina where the North Carolina Court of Appeals granted his client, Henry Surpris, a new trial after Mr. Cooley and his co-counsel, Paul Green, uncovered significant evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.  The Wake County (NC) prosecutor ultimately resigned only a few weeks after the Court of Appeals granted Mr. Surpris a new trial.  In March 2017, the North Carolina State Bar formally punished the prosecutor when it prohibited the prosecutor from practicing as a prosecutor in North Carolina for two years.  The case is State v. Barshiri Sandy and Henry Surpris, 788 S.E.2d 200 (N.C. App. 2016).


Prior to starting his own practice in 2013, Mr. Cooley was a Litigation Attorney with the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence (NCCAI), where he represented indigent North Carolina inmates trying to prove their innocence with DNA and/or non-DNA evidence. Mr. Cooley helped represent two wrongly convicted men, Willie Grimes and Larry Lamb, who were ultimately exonerated based on non-DNA evidence.


Prior to working at the NCCAI, Mr. Cooley served as a Staff Attorney with the Innocence Project in New York City for five years, where he represented indigent inmates across the United States trying to prove their innocence with DNA testing. Mr. Cooley obtained DNA testing for several of his clients that ultimately exonerated 11 innocent prisoners. As a Staff Attorney, Mr. Cooley also had three significant appellate victories that changed the post-conviction DNA testing case law in Tennessee and Pennsylvania: Commonwealth v. Wright, 14 A.3d 798 (Pa. 2011); Commonwealth v. Conway, 14 A.3d 101 (Pa. Super. 2011): Powers v. State, 343 S.W.3d 36  (Tenn. 2011).


While in New York, Mr. Cooley served as an Adjunct Law Professor at St. John’s University School of LawHofstra University School of Law, and Cardozo School of Law where he taught the following courses: Criminal Procedure, Capital Punishment, Post-Conviction Relief, Wrongful Convictions, Forensic Evidence, and the Innocence Project Clinic.


Prior to joining the Innocence Project, Mr. Cooley was an Assistant Federal Defender in the Capital Habeas Unit at the Federal Public Defender's Office in Las Vegas, where he represented Nevada death row inmates pursing federal habeas relief. Mr. Cooley helped Ronnie Milligan gain his freedom after spending 30 years on Nevada’s death row for a murder he likely didn’t commit.


During law school, Mr. Cooley was an Investigator with the Death Penalty Trial Assistance Unit at the Office of the State Appellate Defenders in Chicago where he provided assistance on several cases affected by Governor George Ryan’s 2003 pardons and commutations, including Leroy Orange's arson-murder case.  Mr. Orange was pardoned by Governor Ryan.


A graduate of Northwestern School of Law, Mr. Cooley also received a graduate degree in forensic science from the University of New Haven before he attended law school. Mr. Cooley obtained his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Pittsburgh.


Mr. Cooley’s legal scholarship has been published in Stanford Law & Policy ReviewIndiana Law JournalTulsa Law ReviewCardozo Journal of Law and GenderCharleston Law ReviewGeorge Mason University Civil Rights Law JournalNew England Law Review, and others law reviews.  Mr. Cooley also co-authored a wrongful convictions textbook with forensic expert, Brent TurveyMiscarriages of Justice: Actual Innocence, Forensic Evidence, and the Law (Elsevier/Academic Press).  The textbook can be purchased at Amazon.


Mr. Cooley is also a member of Plum High School’s Sports Hall of Fame (1988-1992).  Mr. Cooley was inducted into the Hall of Fame in November 2014.

Michael Saunders walking out of prison

Litigation Experience

  • Solo Practitioner, Cooley Law Office (Cary, NC; Pittsburgh, PA) (June 2013-present)
  • Litigation Attorney, North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, Durham, NC (June 2012-October 2012)
  • Staff Attorney, Innocence Project, New York, NY (2007-2012)
  • Assistant Federal Defender, Capital Habeas Unit, Federal Public Defender's Office, Las Vegas, NV (2005-2007)

Investigative Experience

  • Investigator, Capital Habeas Unit, Federal Public Defender's Office, Harrisburg, PA (2004-2005)
  • Investigator, Death Penalty Trial Assistance Unit, Federal Public Defender's Office, Chicago, IL (2001-2004)

Law Teaching Experience

  • Adjunct Law Professor, St. John's School of Law (2007-2012)
  • Adjunct Law Professor, Hofstra University School of Law (2007-2012)
  • Adjunct Law Professor, Cardozo School of Law (2007-2012)
  • Courses Taught: Criminal Procedure, Capital Punishment, Post-Conviction Relief, Wrongful Convictions, Forensic Evidence, and Innocence Project Clinic

Admitted To Practice

  • State court: Illinois (inactive), North Carolina (active), Pennsylvania (active)
  • Federal court: Eastern District of North Carolina, Middle District of North Carolina, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Western District of Pennsylvania, Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals  

Appointment Lists

  • Pennsylvania: 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals (CJA Panel Attorney)
  • North Carolina: Capital/Non-Capital Direct Appeal appointment list; Capital/Non-Capital Post-Conviction appointment list; 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (CJA Panel Attorney)


Cooley Law Office

Pittsburgh Office

1308 Plumdale Court

Pittsburgh, PA 15239


412-607-9346 (cell)

919-228-6333 (office)

919-287-2531 (fax)



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