CORNELIUS, N.C. — As the search for Madalina Cojocari, the missing 11-year-old girl from Cornelius, North Carolina, continues, court records detail how investigators are focusing their search.
Her mother, Diana Cojocari, and stepfather, Christopher Palmiter, have been in custody for nearly two weeks now. They’re both facing felony charges of failure to report a missing child. On Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, both were indicted on the failure to report charge.
Cornelius Police said they’ve chased more than 250 leads in their worldwide investigation but otherwise, few details have been released.
As of Friday morning, the search warrant executed on Dec. 21 still had not become available for public view. The search warrant could give more insight into what police know, but the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office confirmed to WCNC Charlotte the warrants have been sealed.
However, on Tuesday, WCNC Charlotte obtained the court order Superior Court Judge Presiding Carla Archie issued on Dec. 30, 2022. WCNC Charlotte received the document after requesting any public records related to the motion to seal from the Mecklenburg County Clerk of Superior Court's public information officer.
"CPD and SBI continue to conduct their investigation and has obtained search warrants for T-Mobile Call Detail Records associated with the defendants, search warrants for the defendant’s home, and a search warrant for Christopher Palmiter’s mobile device. The search warrant affidavits are extremely detailed and contain many facts not available to the public," the order reads. "Given the current level of media attention, release of the search warrants in the above-referenced matter at this time into the public domain could interfere with the rights of Diana Cojocari and Christopher Palmiter to a fair trial. Furthermore, release of the Search Warrant affidavit into the public domain at this stage may interfere with the ability of detectives to recover additional untainted information from witnesses and could hinder the efforts to locate Madalina Cojocari."
Unless the court extends the order, those warrants will be unsealed in 90 days.
On Dec. 21, several officers were seen at the Cojocari house. Flash bulbs were seen in an upstairs window and as they left, investigators put bins and bags of evidence in the crime scene van. They’ll document all of it in an affidavit.
“It’s going to be witness statements, it’s going to be physical evidence such as fingerprints or DNA, it’s going to be evidence of the crime,” Roy Taylor, a law enforcement consultant not involved with this case, said.
Taylor has more than 40 years of experience in law enforcement. He said that the search warrant eventually would be a public record.
“Typically, if a magistrate signs the warrants then it's immediately available to the public,” he said. “If a superior court judge signs it, it's 30 days.”
This one may not be available for a few reasons, including the police department may not have returned it to the clerk’s office yet or it could be a way to help their investigation.
“There could be some other things they want to keep out of the public domain for a while,” Taylor said.
Taylor said it’s not up to the police or district attorney to keep a search warrant private, an impartial judge has to sign off on anything that may keep it out of the public record for the time being.
When police executed that warrant and searched the house on Dec. 21, Madalina had already been missing for almost a month.
Law enforcement got a late start because Madalina’s mother Diana didn’t report her missing until three weeks after she says she last saw her.
“Usually, we say if a case isn’t solved in a 24-hour period then the ability to solve it successfully deteriorates with the more time that lapses,” Taylor said. “In this situation, you’ve got almost a month’s time from the child’s disappearance until it [was] brought to law enforcement.”
Cornelius Police said Madalina’s parents aren’t telling them everything.
The case has gotten a lot of public attention. Police searched Lake Cornelius and say they’ve knocked on hundreds of doors. But there have not been any large-scale search parties.
“There are ways to do this without involving a lot of people. And my recommendation to the public is be patient, law enforcement are working this actively and trying to bring people to justice if there has been a crime,” Taylor said.
Cornelius Police and the FBI have asked people to continue to share Madalina’s picture and encourage anyone with information to come forward.
Diana Cojocari is being held on a $250,000 bond and Christopher Palmiter's bond is $200,000. On Wednesday, both consented to surrender their passports as a condition of their bond. Both would also have to wear an electronic monitor if they bonded out.
Madalina Cojocari is described as an 11-year-old white female, weighing 90 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. Anyone with information about her whereabouts is asked to contact the Cornelius Police Department at 704-892-7773.
Cornelius is located in northern Mecklenburg County, North Carolina less than 20 miles from Charlotte.