- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A federal judge has upheld racketeering and other felony charges against a D.C. man facing a rare death-penalty trial, part of a sweeping indictment targeting the so-called M Street Crew in Northeast.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, outlined Nov. 7 in a 35-page opinion, sets up the third capital murder trial in the District in the past three decades.

Larry Gooch, who prosecutors say killed five persons as an enforcer for the gang, is facing a death sentence if convicted. He is scheduled to be tried in January with other gang suspects.

Three men identified by prosecutors as leaders in the M Street gang — John Franklin, 33; George “Shug” Wilson, 37; and William Dee Robinson, 30 and a former D.C. Public Schools bus driver — are serving life sentences in the case.

More than 30 people have been arrested, but Mr. Gooch is the only one facing the death penalty. Prosecutors say the group controlled much of the area’s PCP and Ecstasy trade until 2004.

Mr. Gooch’s attorneys sought the dismissal of numerous charges. They argued that the indictment doesn’t show overarching conspiracy among purported gang members, which is necessary for prosecutors to prove racketeering.

Mr. Gooch’s attorneys also stated in court papers that the indictment allows the government to “prosecute a neighborhood.”

Judge Collyer disagreed.

“It is not the neighborhood that is being prosecuted,” she wrote in the opinion. “It is those who are alleged to have warped the neighborhood for their illegal purposes.”

The judge also is expected to rule on a motion by Mr. Gooch’s attorneys to throw out the death penalty, after hearing arguments last week from both sides.

Prosecutors say Mr. Gooch should be put to death for the Aug. 1, 2000, fatal shootings of Christopher Lane, 19, and William Cunningham, 27; 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.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Darlene M. Soltys wrote in a court memo that Mr. Gooch “was perceived as having no regard for life and had as his motto: ‘Live for the block, die for the block.’ ”

Jensen E. Barber II, an attorney for Mr. Gooch, has argued against capital punishment on the grounds that it “violates fundamental fairness in the administration of justice and is at odds with basic notions of human dignity, civility and compassion.”

The issue has political implications, with attorneys for Mr. Gooch also arguing that the death penalty violates the District’s Home Rule Charter. The death penalty is banned in D.C. criminal cases but can be sought in federal matters.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, said she will watch the progress of the case. She said she has opposed the death penalty for D.C. residents in federal court.

“The majority of people would, if given the choice, impose life without the possibility of parole,” she said.

Barbara Cooper, the sister of shooting victim Mr. Cooper, said in September that she favors Mr. Gooch getting the death penalty.

My brother “never hurt anybody, and they hunted him down like a dog,” Miss Cooper said.

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