Madalina Cojocari’s stepfather testifies, denies knowing where she is

Posted at 8:32 AM, May 29, 2024

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. (Court TV) – Christopher Palmiter took the stand in his defense Tuesday after prosecutors rested their case in Palmiter’s trial stemming from the 2022 disappearance of his missing stepdaughter, Madalina Cojocari.

“This is your opportunity to tell your story. Are you ready to tell these people?” Palmiter’s lawyer, Brandon Roseman, asked him.

christopher palmiter testifies

Christopher Palmiter, stepfather of missing Madalina Cojocari, testifies in his defense Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (Court TV)

Palmiter, 61, started his testimony by saying he did not harm his stepdaughter and does not know where she is. Palmiter is standing trial on one count of failing to report a missing child, but he claims he didn’t even realize Madalina was missing until his wife, Diana Cojocari, reported the 11-year-old missing to Bailey Middle School staff on December 15, 2022, three weeks after Palmiter and Diana told law enforcement they last saw her.

Throughout the trial, Palmiter’s defense has tried to shift the blame to Diana as the biological parent with legal custody of Madalina for not reporting her missing. Diana pleaded guilty last week to the same low-level felony for which Palmiter is standing trial. She was released on time served.

The defense blame game continued with Palmiter’s turn on the witness stand. He described Diana as a protective and attentive mother, but also as the primary caregiver who was solely responsible for Madalina’s welfare and education. Palmiter got choked up as he described going for walks around the neighborhood with Madalina or visiting the park when Diana was busy praying, a pursuit of hers that grew over time, he said.

Palmiter’s lawyer walked him through the timeline of his relationship with Diana, who Palmiter met in 2008 on the website, “Global Ladies.” Palmiter visited Diana in Moldova two years later, bringing her a “promise ring” to symbolize his hopes for a “potential future” with her. After the visit, however, Diana stopped communicating with Palmiter when she became pregnant with Madalina by another man. She contacted Palmiter with the news after she gave birth and the two resumed their relationship, but it would take years for them to work through visa issues to bring Diana and her daughter to the U.S. in December 2015, Palmiter testified.

When the couple married in January 2016, Palmiter said he learned that Diana had lied to him about her age. She was born in 1985, not 1979 as she initially told him, but she didn’t mind the 20-plus age difference between them and neither did he, he said.

Diana Cojocari, mother of a missing North Carolina girl, Madalina Cojocari, leaves prison. Upon leaving prison she's asked about Madalina's whereabouts by reporters and she replies, "I hope she's safe." Diana waited nearly one month before reporting the child missing.

Diana Cojocari, mother of a missing North Carolina girl, Madalina Cojocari, leaves prison. Upon leaving prison she’s asked about Madalina’s whereabouts by reporters and she replies, “I hope she’s safe.” Diana waited nearly one month before reporting the child missing. (WSOC-TV)

Palmiter agreed with his lawyer that the marriage was more like a companionship. He grew emotional at times, pausing to take a breath or wipe tears from his eyes as he testified that he was never physically intimate with his wife. They stopped sharing a bed after a year of sleeping together. She would offer her cheek when he leaned in for a kiss goodnight and only kissed him on the lips on special occasions like his birthday.

When he first met her, Palmiter noted Diana was “spiritual,” telling him that angels foretold her she would meet an American. As her religious fervor grew in the United States, Diana included Madalina in her prayers and rituals to the point it almost became a competition between them, Palmiter joked.

Palmiter tried to adopt his wife’s spiritualism in the hopes of bringing them closer, he said, but she rejected his efforts and pushed him to teach himself. By 2022, Diana’s spiritual activities included loud chants and meditations that woke up Palmiter in the middle of the night, burns in the backyard firepit, and demon-fighting rituals that required a sharp knife to cut “imaginary strings,” Palmiter testified.

Earlier Tuesday, the jury heard Palmiter tell investigators in a recorded interview that he thought Madalina was with friends or in her bedroom even though he had not seen her since before Thanksgiving 2022, when he left their home in Cornelius, North Carolina, to visit family in Michigan. When he returned, he said he asked Diana where Madalina was, and she told him she didn’t know. When Det. Brand Nichols asked Palmiter if he thought Diana would ever harm Madalina, Palmiter said no. But he added that he felt like the “outsider” in the situation and suspected Diana knows where her daughter is.

To undermine Palmiter’s claims of ignorance, Assistant District Attorney Austin Butler introduced photos of the family’s home that showed Madalina’s bedroom right next to Palmiter’s with her bed made and illuminated string lights hanging from the walls.

Madalina Cojocari missing person photo

FILE – Madalina Cojocari (Cornelius Police Department/FBI)

Mecklenburg County prosecutors rested their case after calling their fourth and final witness, FBI digital forensic examiner Lauren Haller, who testified to potentially incriminating texts, emails and internet searches on Palmiter’s phone.

Last week, guidance counselor Danice Lampkin testified she sent Palmiter and Diana four emails asking about Madalina’s prolonged truancy. Haller’s analysis showed that Palmiter not only opened the email, but also searched the internet for “what happens at truency [sic] court?”

On December 13, 2022 – the same day Lampkin left messages with Diana, Palmiter, and an emergency contact threatening to visit their home — Palmiter texted Diana and urged her to contact the school. “You need to call and tell them that you are taking Madi out of the school system… and going to home school her.”