Madalina Cojocari’s school bus driver, counselor testify in stepfather’s trial

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WJZY) — The first day of testimony in the trial of Christopher Palmiter, the stepfather of missing Cornelius girl Madalina Cojocari, included witnesses from the school and reminders of what the trial was actually about. 

Opening arguments got underway at the Mecklenburg County courthouse just before 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon, and the state began calling witnesses. 

Palmiter is on trial for not reporting his stepdaughter missing. She was 11 at the time of her disappearance. 

Prosecutors said the counselor at Madalina’s school left Palmiter five voicemails over 23 days, and he never responded until his wife reportedly went to Bailey Middle School without Madalina. That’s when authorities discovered she was missing in December 2022. 

Both the defense and prosecution reminded jurors that this trial is not about what happened to Madalina. They said jurors won’t get that answer during this trial. 

The prosecution started out with some witnesses who got emotional on the stand. Prosecutors began by calling Madalina’s school bus driver, Tina Rorie. 

She cried and had to take a moment on the stand to gather herself. 

Rorie got upset when she talked about last seeing Madalina on Nov. 21, 2022, getting off the bus. She said Madalina was always polite and thanked her every day. 

The prosecution’s second witness was Madalina’s guidance counselor, Danice Lampkin. She broke down several times on the stand. 

Footage from Madalina’s school bus is the last known whereabouts of the 11-year-old. (Courtesy Cornelius Police Dept.)

The state played five voicemail messages that the counselor reportedly left on Palmiter’s cellphone asking how Madalina was and checking on her because she had been absent from school.     

Lampkin got emotional early in her testimony when she talked about Madalina doing well in school. The counselor eventually went to Madalina’s home and left a truancy packet.                

Two days later, Madalina’s mom showed up at the school without her daughter and that’s when authorities found out Madalina was missing. 

The prosecutor asked the guidance counselor what she thought when after about three weeks, Madalina’s mother finally said her daughter was missing. 

“Oh my God, where is this child?” Lampkin answered. 

Earlier this week Madalina’s mother, Diana Cojocari, pleaded guilty to the same charge as Palmiter. 

She was released from jail after time served for the conviction. 

Testimony in Palmiter’s trial continues on Tuesday. 

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