- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2006

A federal judge has upheld the right of federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty against a D.C. man whose trial on murder, racketeering and drug charges is expected to begin next month.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer’s ruling means that Larry Gooch will be tried in just the third death penalty case in the District in the past three decades.

D.C. law bars capital punishment, but the death penalty can be sought in the District in federal crimes.

In a 60-page ruling released last week, Judge Collyer disagreed with defense arguments that the Racketeering Influenced and Organized Crime (RICO) Act case should be tried in D.C. Superior Court, where there is no death penalty.

“On their face, these charges relate to the allegations of a RICO enterprise and are properly charged under federal law,” the judge wrote.

Defense attorneys accused the government of “forum shopping” its case, choosing to try Mr. Gooch’s case in federal court, where capital punishment is permitted.

“Federal jurisdiction in this case is based solely upon allegations of drug trafficking, which, at best, serve only as a background to the alleged murders,” defense attorney Jensen E. Barber II argued in a filing.

Prosecutors say that as enforcer for the M Street Crew in Northeast, Mr. Gooch killed five persons, including a man and his girlfriend suspected of cooperating with law enforcement. Mr. Gooch has disputed the charges.

If Mr. Gooch is convicted, one of the elements that prosecutors must argue in seeking the death penalty is that he would pose a continuous threat even while in prison.

Judge Collyer noted in her ruling that testimony showed that a co-defendant in the case, Joseph L. Blackson, continued to work in the drug business even after his arrest and incarceration in the D.C. Jail.

Blackson was sentenced to 35 years in prison in August.

Blackson’s brother, John L. Franklin, was the kingpin of the M Street Crew, prosecutors said. He is serving a life sentence along with George Wilson and William Dee Robinson, a former D.C. Public Schools bus driver.

Among more than a dozen charged in the case, only Mr. Gooch faces a possible death penalty.

The Justice Department last year filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty, a decision approved by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

Mr. Gooch is charged in the Aug. 1, 2000, shooting deaths of Christopher Lane, 19, and William Cunningham, 27.

He also is charged in the Sept. 13, 2002, shooting death of Miguel Miles, 34, and the Feb. 21, 2003, fatal shootings of Calvin Cooper, 40, and his girlfriend, Yolanda Miller, 32.

In seeking to prevent prosecutors from asking for the death penalty, Mr. Barber noted that voters in the District have “continually rejected the death penalty.”

The case could focus attention on the death penalty in the District.

Delegate Eleanor Norton Holmes, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, and Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, have told The Washington Times that they support the city’s ban on capital punishment.

Since 1976, only two capital murder cases have proceeded to trial in federal court in the District. In both cases, defendants were given life in prison without parole.

In 2003, a federal jury deadlocked on whether to recommend the death penalty for Murder Inc. gang members Kevin L. Gray and Rodney Moore. Gray was convicted of 19 murders, and Moore was found guilty in 10 murders.

The deadlock allowed both to receive life in prison without parole.

In the other case, a federal jury in 2004 rejected the death penalty for “1-5 Mob” leader Tommy Edelin, who was convicted of four murders in the prosecution of his Southeast gang.

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