- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

Federal prosecutors have accused the defense team for a D.C. man in an upcoming death-penalty trial of using private investigators posing as government employees to interview a victim’s family.

“The defense employed tactics clearly designed to deceive witnesses and victims into thinking that they were granting interviews to victim-witness advocates,” prosecutors wrote in an Oct. 31 memo filed in federal court in the District.

Attorneys for Larry Gooch, charged with killing five persons as an enforcer for the so-called M Street Crew in Northeast, sharply disputed the memo.

Defense attorney Jensen E. Barber II wrote in a memo filed yesterday that the government was making “baseless claims” and a “blatant misstatement.” Mr. Barber could not be reached by deadline, but has previously declined to comment on the case.

Last year, prosecutors filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty if Mr. Gooch is convicted. Family members of victims likely would be called to testify during the sentencing phase in the case of a guilty verdict.

Prosecutors became concerned about how the defense was trying to interview family members of victims after a phone call from Barbara Cooper, the mother of Calvin Cooper, whom authorities say was fatally shot by Mr. Gooch, according to court records.

Mrs. Cooper told prosecutors she consented to an interview last week after two persons she thought were victim-witness advocates working for the prosecution visited her home.

“During the interview, they began asking questions about the murder of her son in ways that made her suspicious of their motives,” the government memo states. “She asked them to restate their purpose and their affiliation.

“They admitted they were from the law firm that represented Larry Gooch,” the memo continues. “She said, ‘Isn’t that the man who killed my son?’ She terminated the interview and called the prosecutors.”

Prosecutors said they don’t object to witnesses speaking with the defense team, but want a court order to bar “using misrepresentation to obtain consent for these interviews,” the Oct. 31 memo states.

But Mr. Barber stated “nothing could be less true” than the suggestion defense team members interviewed Mrs. Cooper on false pretenses.

He said the two defense team members who visited Mrs. Cooper left her a card with his law office’s name and phone number displayed.

Mr. Barber also has said Mr. Gooch wants to “develop compassionate relationships with the survivors of our client’s alleged crimes.”

“Simple human decency calls for defense attorneys to relate to victims with respect and compassion,” Mr. Barber said. “Mrs. Cooper was treated with respect and compassion and given the opportunity to call upon our victim-liaison specialist ….”

He also said defense-victim liaisons have been authorized increasingly in federal capital cases, including the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

“When we develop relationships between survivors and defense teams and/or clients, survivors’ concern about the form of punishment — death or something else — often recedes into the background,” Mr. Barber wrote.

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