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Cornelius News

Testimony: Madalina was the kind of girl who thanked her bus driver each day

May 24. By Mark Washburn. Fingers were pointed three times at the stepfather of a missing Cornelius girl in a Mecklenburg courtroom Friday.

First by Austin Butler, the assistant district attorney prosecuting Christopher Palmiter for failure to report the girl missing for three weeks after her disappearance in 2022.

“Twenty three days,” thundered Butler, pointing at Palmiter.

A photograph of Madalina was the first exhibit brought into evidence Friday. Bus driver Tina Rorie, who drove Madalina from Bailey Middle School to Victoria Bay, identified the girl as Madalina, but added the picture was not the way she remembered the girl. ‘She didn’t smile a lot.’

“From Nov. 22 to Dec. 15, 23 days went by where he didn’t know the location of Madalina Cojocari. Twenty-three days went by before a detective from Cornelius Police Department confronted him.”

Second by his defense attorney Brandon Roseman, who appealed to jurors to keep an open mind about Palmiter’s conduct.

“You don’t know the story,” Roseman said. “You don’t know the whole picture.”

Third by Madalina’s school bus driver Tina Rorie. She pointed him out as the man she saw Madalina with in the front yard of their Victoria Bay house as she drove past days before the girl vanished during the Thanksgiving holiday 2022.

Throughout testimony, Palmiter sat stoically, his jaw muscles frequently clenching.

After a video of Madalina leaving the school bus before Thanksgiving break was played for jurors – one widely distributed in the early days of the 18-month-long search for Madalina – Rorie wept and dabbed her eyes with a tissue.

“When she got off the bus,” Rorie said, “she always thanked me.”

Rorie said Madalina was well-behaved, unlike some boisterous riders she carried on her four daily routes. They bonded over their similar names – one Tina, one Madalina.

Missing: Madalina Cojocari

Details of absences

Madalina was frequently absent in the autumn of 2022, Bailey Middle School counselor Danice Lampkin testified.

She said she made several attempts to contact the parents over the course of the school term because she was concerned that Madalina, who was doing well with her studies, was in jeopardy of falling behind on her studies.

Many of the absences were marked sickness/injury, others unexcused. No doctor’s note was ever submitted to substantiate the absences, Lampkin said.

After Thanksgiving, Madalina failed to return to school. Lampkin said she made repeated attempts by phone and email to reach the parents for an explanation.

Not getting a response, she drove to the Victoria Bay house on Dec. 13 and finding no one home, left a truancy packet with copies of the emails she had already sent to the parents and details of Madalina’s attendance record.

On the following day, Lampkin said Diana Cojocari called and said she would come to the school the following day with Madalina. Lampkin said she repeatedly told Diana Cojocari to bring Madalina.

“I wanted to see the child,” Lampkin said.

When Diana Cojocari came on Dec. 15 without Madalina, Lampkin said she summoned the assistant principal and school resource officer the moment Cojocari said that Madalina was in fact missing.


What, asked the prosecutor, was going through your mind?

“Oh my God,” said Lampkin. “Where is this child?”

Preview of testimony

In his opening statements to the jury, Butler gave a preview of the testimony that will be given next week in a 50-minute body camera video taken the day Madalina’s disappearance was revealed.

Butler said that Palmiter will be seen in the video offering four possible scenarios explaining the circumstances.

In one, he said she might be at a friend’s house. Then he said that sometimes children get kidnapped.

Butler said that Palmiter will then be seen telling a Cornelius detective that he thought Madalina might be in school.

Missing Madalina: Last independent sighting Nov. 21, 2022 on CMS bus

Finally, said Butler, will come the explanation that Madalina might have been in her room for the last 23 days. “He told Detective Nichols that,” Butler said, “because the light had been on in her room.”

Jury selection took days

A jury of 11 men and one woman was selected Friday morning after two-and-a-half days of interviews. Two women were selected to serve as alternates.

Out of the original pool of 50 potential jurors, 46 were interviewed by the judge and attorneys before the jury box was filled.

Testimony will resume at 11 a.m. Tuesday after the Memorial Day holiday. Two forensic experts from the FBI are expected to be called to discuss their findings after examining the computers and cell phones of Palmiter and Cojocari.

FBI poster for Madalina