- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2000

Federal prosecutors yesterday announced they will seek the death penalty in the trial of Carl D. Cooper, accused of killing three Starbucks employees in Georgetown in 1997.

"After a very full and careful review, we have decided to seek the death penalty if he is convicted of any death penalty crimes," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein said yesterday during a 20-minute hearing in U.S. District Court.

Attorney General Janet Reno decided to seek the death penalty in the federal case after receiving a recommendation for the action from U.S. Attorney Wilma Lewis.

Mr. Wainstein said the prosecution would seek the death penalty because several victims were slain and suffered tremendous cruelty and pain in the crime. He also noted that the slayings were premeditated and committed for financial gain.

Mr. Cooper appeared unemotional yesterday, but his wife, Melissa, left the courtroom crying and returned a few moments later. Neither she nor Mr. Cooper's mother, Gwendolyn Cooper, would comment after the announcement.

The District of Columbia has no death penalty, but federal prosecutors can seek it because Mr. Cooper is being prosecuted under the 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act. It was designed to combat organized crime, including small groups involved in continuing criminal activities.

Mr. Cooper is charged with operating a continuing criminal operation as well as with killing three employees at the Georgetown coffeehouse during a botched robbery.

Prosecutors in Washington first used RICO against a band of criminals involved in murders and robberies in 1995, when three men were prosecuted under the statute for a four-month crime spree that stretched from Annapolis, Md., to the District.

Mr. Cooper's charges mark only the second time that RICO charges have been filed in a D.C. case that did not involve an illegal drug organization.

Federal prosecutors in the District have only twice before sought the death penalty. Both defendants pleaded guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without the possibility of parole before going to trial.

Donzell M. McCauley pleaded guilty in July 1995 to murdering D.C. police Officer Jason E. White, and Wayne Anthony Perry, 30, pleaded guilty in April 1994 to a series of murders, including the slayings of rival drug dealers and witnesses.

The last execution in the District occurred in 1957, when Robert Carter was electrocuted for killing a police officer.

Steven R. Kirsch, Mr. Cooper's attorney, said he will appeal the death-penalty decision. "We will challenge on the substantial and ethical disparity," he said.

Last week, Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, imposed a moratorium on executions in his state, noting that more death-row inmates in Illinois had been freed than had been put to death in the past 20 years.

Mr. Kirsch's request to delay the April 10 trial of Mr. Cooper was granted by District Judge Joyce Hens Green, who rescheduled the trial to begin May 2.

Mr. Cooper is charged with murder, racketeering and conspiracy. He is accused of organizing a group of friends in a string of commercial robberies between the District and Pennsylvania including the botched robbery at the Starbucks coffee shop.

Mr. Cooper, 29, of the 1200 block of Gallatin Street NE, is accused of the July 6, 1997, slayings of Emory Allen Evans, 25; Mary Caitrin Mahoney, 24; and Aaron David Goodrich, 18.

Police believe Mr. Cooper was the lone gunman who killed the three employees during the attempted robbery.

Mr. Cooper told police he killed the three employees when Miss Mahoney began fighting with him after he demanded money from the coffee shop's safe. He said he shot Miss Mahoney during the struggle, then killed Mr. Evans and Mr. Goodrich to prevent them from identifying him.

Judge Green ruled last week that his statements to police are admissible in the trial, which is expected to last about two months if he is convicted and the jury considers the death penalty.

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