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Cornelius News

Stepfather weeps while telling of loveless marriage

Palmiter left, outside court

May 29. By Mark Washburn. Christopher Palmiter, the stepfather of a missing Cornelius girl, took the witness stand on Tuesday to describe his stark, loveless and sexless marriage with the girl’s mother that deteriorated into a near-cult experience.

Palmiter, charged with failure to report Madalina Cojocari missing in 2022, said he met Diana Cojocari through a dating site GlobalLadies. Cojocari represented herself as a teacher in Moldova, a former Soviet bloc country, who was born in 1979.

They emailed each other for a year or two, then Palmiter flew to Moldova to meet her. Things went well on the first meeting, mostly dinners and sightseeing, he said. He returned on a second trip and presented her with a promise ring, he said, “just to say there is a potential future.”

D Cojocari

Later, they lost contact and Cojocari eventually contacted him to say that she had become pregnant by a local man “who wanted nothing to do with her,” Palmiter said.

He indicated that he still might be interested in her, and they rekindled their relationship by email.

Engagement and marriage

Cojocari came to the United States with her toddler daughter in December 2015, Palmiter said, and they were married a month later.

But when they applied for the marriage license, he learned that her real birth year was 1985.

“So she lied to you about her age?” asked Brandon Roseman, the defense attorney.

“Yes,” replied Palmiter solemnly.

Religious obsessions

Even when they met in Moldova, Palmiter testified, Diana – who was raised in the Russian Orthodox faith – confessed having a spiritual side. She once told him that an angel had told her that the man from America was the one she would marry.

Roseman asked Palmiter whether he detected anything “off” about Cojocari’s personality in the early days of their courtship. Not then, Palmiter replied, but her spiritual obsessions grew steadily as the marriage progressed.

In 2018, Cojocari stopped sleeping in the same room with her husband. By 2021, Palmiter said, Cojocari was staying up late into the night to chant prayers as a disciple of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, the American spiritual leader and author. Chanting faster gave Cojocari more prayer contact, he said, like earning more points.

Madalina Cojocari

She taught Madalina the chants and they would do them together.

Palmiter said he tried to learn how to join her in meditations, but was never successful.

Difficulty sleeping

By 2022, he had difficulty sleeping because Cojocari’s chants and meditations were so loud, Palmiter said. “It sounded like she was almost screaming at the top of her lungs.”

Cojocari would burn things in the backyard fire pit as part of her religious activities, Palmiter testified. It progressed to things that couldn’t burn, like a metal coat rack or stainless steel travel mugs, he said.

Then he described a ritual where he would sit in a chair and Cojocari would take a knife and wave it over his head to cut the strings that demons above him had attached. She had Madalina participate in the same ritual.

A stranger to love

Palmiter said he had never married before meeting Cojocari, and had never had a serious romantic relationship since one in college.

Cojocari wasn’t affectionate, he said. She’d let him kiss her on the cheek at bedtime and they might kiss on the lips for birthdays or Christmas, but otherwise it was a distant relationship.

Asked Roseman: Were you ever physically intimate with Diana Cojocari?

“No,” replied Palmiter, choking up and dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief. “Never.”

It was more of a companionship, he explained. “I was trying to learn the spiritual end of it so we could communicate better.”

Cojocari was released last week after serving 17 months and pleading guilty to the failure to report charge. Palmiter has been free on $25,000 bond since August after serving eight months in the Mecklenburg County Jail in pretrial detention.

Interview at school in 2022

Earlier in the day, during the prosecution’s case, a police detective who interviewed Palmiter on the day Madalina was reported missing told the Cornelius man that his story did not add up.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” said Detective Cpl. Bradley Nichols, a 14-year veteran of the Cornelius Police Department, in a body camera video shown Tuesday to the jury in Palmiter’s case, “and there are a lot of things that don’t make sense to me.”

Palmiter was shown being interviewed at Bailey Middle School on Dec. 15, 2022, after his wife, Diana Cojocari, told school staff that their daughter had not been seen since Nov. 22, at the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Sitting in the office of the school’s police resource officer, Nichols asked Palmiter several different ways what had happened to Madalina.

Palmiter told him various scenarios: Maybe she was with a friend, she might have been kidnapped or the school might know where she was.

Pushed by Nichols, Palmiter told him that he thought she might have been up in her room for the past three weeks. He’d seen her lights on.

Palmiter said that he really didn’t know the names of Madalina’s friends. He did say that she played a video game called Star Stable – she was fascinated with horses – with other girls online remotely, but didn’t know who they were.

But he said he monitored her online usage to ensure she wasn’t communicating with adults or strangers.

Palmiter told Nichols that he’d asked his wife where Madalina was since Thanksgiving, when he returned from a trip to Michigan, but he never got a straight answer. Sometimes Cojocari would turn the question back on him – did he know?

“I think she said something to the effect of ‘I don’t know where she is,’” Palmiter told Nichols, appearing relaxed in an office chair at the school and speaking calmly.

Nichols asked whether Madalina had any behavior issues leading up to her disappearance. Palmiter said she seemed to be even keel.

“She was an active little girl,” Palmiter said on the video, who got along with him and her mother. He would sometimes play video games with her, hide and seek or chase their cats around the house together.

A burning sofa

Nichols asked whether he and Cojocari recently burned a sofa in their backyard. Yes, said Palmiter, because the cats had damaged it. He said he burned it and disposed of the metal.

“We were just getting rid of it,” he said.

As the video aired in the courtroom, Palmiter watched intently on a monitor in front of him, sometimes leaning in resting his chin on his hand. He sat mute most of the day, occasionally whispering with his attorney, Roseman.

Quarrel over money

During the tape, Nichols asked Palmiter whether he and his wife were having any marital friction. Palmiter told a story about investing in silver based on advice he’d gotten from a podcast.

His wife was concerned about the safety of the $250,000 investment, particularly because there was someone on the agreement she didn’t recognize and was leery of.

He said he backed out of the investment to appease her, losing about $50,000 on the deal.

Plan to leave school

An FBI digital analyst, Laura Haller, testified later that she had been involved in examining the cell phone belonging to Palmiter. They showed that his phone had received email from the school concerning Madalina’s absences and they had been opened and read.

Also on the phone was a text message from Dec. 13, 2022 from Palmiter to Cojocari instructing her to contact the school regarding plans to end Madalina’s enrollment at Bailey Middle School and convert her to homeschooling. There was no evidence Cojocari ever did so.

Christopher Palmiter will resume his testimony at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

From a video compilation of Madalina Cojocari released by Cornelius Police

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