From a hospital bed in New Jersey, where he is already serving a life sentence for other murders, Cottingham pleaded not guilty.
While he has claimed responsibility for up to 100 homicides, authorities in New York and New Jersey have officially linked him to just a dozen so far, including Kusik’s death.
He has been a prisoner since 1980, when he was arrested when a motel waitress heard a woman screaming in his room. Authorities found her alive but handcuffed and suffering from sting and knife wounds.
Cottingham asked to be referred by video from the New Jersey hospital on Wednesday because he was in poor health, bedridden and not walking, Judge Karin Fink said. His lawyer, Jeff Gronder, needed to repeat the judge’s questions several times because he had difficulty hearing them, Gronder said.
“He is a violent predator and no matter what he looks like in a hospital bed today, he has not always been a weak old man,” Nassau County Attorney Anne Donnelly told the Associated Press.
“He was a 22-year-old man when he committed the murder of Mrs. Kusik. “He was stronger, stronger than these women and he was violent.”
Authorities believe Cusick, 23, quit her job at a children’s dance school and then stopped at the Green Acres Mall in Nassau to buy a pair of shoes when Cottingham followed her.
Detectives believe she pretended to be a security guard or police officer, accused her of stealing and then beat Cushick, 44, said Nassau County Police Detective Captain Stephen Fitzpatrick.
“He was brutally beaten, killed and raped in this car,” Fitzpatrick said. The medical examiner concluded that Cusick had been hit in the face and head and suffocated until she died.
She had defensive wounds on her hands and police were able to collect DNA evidence at the scene. But at that time, there was no DNA test.
Police interviewed dozens of people, followed in their footsteps and never stopped chasing her killer. But the path went cold.
“The police did a great job searching for any information they could find.
“They spoke to hundreds of people at the Green Acres Mall to see if anyone had seen Diane,” Donnelly said.
“Unfortunately, the path went cold and the case got cold.”
Cottingham worked as a computer programmer for a health insurance company in New York at the time of Cusick’s death. He was convicted of murder in both New York and New Jersey in the 1980s, although the law at the time did not require convicts to submit DNA samples, as he does now. His DNA was taken and registered in a national database in 2016, when he pleaded guilty to another murder in New Jersey.
In 2021, Nassau County police received information that a suspect who could be responsible for murder in the county, just east of New York, was arrested in New Jersey. They started DNA tests again for colds and ended up in a fight with Cottingham.
Cottingham also led police to believe he was responsible for the death by providing some information about the case, such as telling detectives that he was near a Drive-in Theater, which was next to the mall at the time. But he did not directly confess to Kusik’s death, Donnelly said.
“It did not give full acceptance. “What he planned was small steps in the path that we were able to take with the help of the police department to complete this story,” he said.
Prosecutors are now examining all the open cases at the same time and running DNA to see if Cottingham may have been responsible for other killings.
“Based on the evidence we have in this case, we are looking at all the murders of young women from 1967 to 1980 to see if we can put together other cases against Mr Cottingham,” Donnelly said.
Cusick’s daughter, Darlene Altman, said she was shocked to see Cottingham on the video in the courtroom. Altman was four years old when her mother was killed.
“It simply came to our notice then. “I felt he was looking at me well,” Altman said. “It was creepy.”