Shackled by a chain around his waist, Dr. Louis Chen pleaded not guilty Monday to aggravated first-degree murder in the killings of his longterm partner and toddler son.

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Shackled by a chain around his waist, Dr. Louis Chen pleaded not guilty Monday to aggravated first-degree murder in the killings of his longterm partner and toddler son.

Chen, dressed in the white garb of high-security prisoners, appeared slender and frail during his court appearance in King County Superior Court.

Chen, 39, was to begin work at Virginia Mason Medical Center on Aug. 15. After he failed to appear for an orientation Aug. 11 and Chen’s sister called the hospital asking about him, a hospital representative went to Chen’s penthouse apartment on First Hill. She found Chen nude, semiconscious and covered in dried blood, according to charging documents.

Eric Cooper, 29, and the couple’s son, Cooper Chen, 2, died the day before, sometime Aug. 10, the King County Medical Examiner’s Office said on Monday.

In the days and weeks before that, Eric Cooper had complained that an alcohol-fueled Chen became increasingly agitated, hostile and paranoid about their plans to end the relationship, according to a man who described himself as Cooper’s friend.

Chen’s personal history will be examined by prosecutors as they determine whether to seek the death penalty against him, and by defense attorneys as they attempt to thwart that possibility.

Chen’s eye was swollen shut and he was slumped over when police arrived at the apartment Aug. 11, according to charging documents.

Cooper’s body was found in the living room. Prosecutors say he had been stabbed or slashed more than 100 times.

Cooper Chen was found dead in the bathtub, with many wounds to his neck, according to charging documents.

Five bloodstained knives were found in the apartment, prosecutors said.

Chen was hospitalized and treated for undisclosed injuries before being booked into King County Jail Aug. 20.

Long relationship

According to Chen’s friends and one of Cooper’s relatives, the couple met when Chen was attending the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and Cooper was a 17-year-old high-school student in Tinley Park, Ill.

The couple were living in Minnesota when friends said their child was conceived with Chen’s sperm and the egg of an anonymous Taiwanese woman. The baby was carried by a surrogate mother from Oregon and adopted by Cooper after he was born.

“They loved that baby. They adored him,” said a friend of Chen’s who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It was one thing they always agreed on, and it was really very sweet.”

The 12-year relationship between Chen and Cooper was drawing to a close by the time Chen accepted the position at Virginia Mason after completing a fellowship in endocrinology at Duke University.

Nevertheless, the couple planned to move to Seattle together, then separate amicably and co-parent equally, according to friends of Chen and Cooper.

Death-penalty case?

In court Monday, Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle granted a request from prosecutors and defense attorneys to extend until Nov. 27 the deadline for prosecutors to determine whether to seek the death penalty. Prosecutors normally have 30 days from arraignment to make that decision. Aggravated murder is punishable by death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

One of Chen’s attorneys, Todd Maybrown, said during the court hearing that because Chen and Cooper had moved to Seattle only last month, more time was needed to gather information on Chen and the victims.

Maybrown said the defense team is confident they will be able to gather “a great deal of information that will be mitigating in this case” and that prosecutors would have “no basis” to pursue the death penalty against their client.

Chen’s attorneys have declined to comment on the case outside of court, as have police and prosecutors.

Friend’s account

However, one law-enforcement source confirmed that police have spoken with a number of people who knew Cooper.

Cooper’s friend, Vernon O’Reilly Ramesar, told The Seattle Times he had a “long conversation” with the lead detective about exchanges O’Reilly Ramesar had had with Cooper in the months and days leading up to the murders.

O’Reilly Ramesar, a travel writer based in Trinidad, said he met Cooper online and that they communicated almost daily through Skype, Facebook and phone conversations.

Cooper, who had never dated anyone other than Chen, was excited about his upcoming freedom, O’Reilly Ramesar said, and he was looking forward to getting a place of his own and buying a green car to name Kermit.

O’Reilly Ramesar said his friend also had recently become an online gay-rights activist and found that he had a writer’s voice and a gift for humor. He had just completed his first novel, called “The Abernathy Cross,” which O’Reilly Ramesar described as “an excellent read.”

According to O’Reilly Ramesar, Cooper had a cheerful nature and a tendency to pretend “everything was hunky dory,” but in the last couple of weeks of his life had begun to complain that things were becoming “unbearable” at home.

“Drinking all the time”

Cooper told O’Reilly Ramesar that Chen had been essentially a high-functioning alcoholic for quite some time.

While he was working a regular schedule or going to school, Chen was able to hide his drinking from colleagues, O’Reilly Ramesar said Cooper told him.

But once they moved to Seattle and Chen had a month with few obligations, the external controls evaporated, said O’Reilly Ramesar. “Eric said he was drinking all the time.”

Chen became paranoid and increasingly hostile, accusing Cooper of trying to “hack” into Chen’s phone and email accounts, O’Reilly Ramesar said.

He said Cooper told him that Chen was controlling and sought to isolate Cooper from the outside world.

“They were always moving around and he wasn’t allowed to make friends,” O’Reilly Ramesar said. “He was feeling like he was an appendage who was just there to take care of the child.”

Additionally, while the couple had drawn up a legal agreement of separation before they left North Carolina, O’Reilly Ramesar said that Chen, when intoxicated, would threaten to renege on the agreement and “leave Eric out in the cold.”

When O’Reilly Ramesar and Cooper last communicated, on Aug. 9 — the day before Eric Cooper and Cooper Chen were killed — Cooper told his friend that things were getting “really unpleasant at home.”

Cooper was a “writer, a humorist and a champion for bullied kids,” O’Reilly Ramesar said. “He was a wonderful person and he deserves better than being thought of as some gay guy who got killed.”

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com