- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

Federal authorities are seeking the death penalty against a D.C. man charged in five killings, setting up the prospect of just the third capital murder trial in the city over the past 30 years.

Larry Gooch, described by law-enforcement officials as “an enforcer” in the M Street Crew drug gang, is expected to go on trial in January on felony charges, including first-degree murder and armed robbery.

Though capital punishment is banned in the District, Gooch, 27, could get the death penalty if convicted because he has been charged in a federal case.

The Justice Department last year filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Gooch, a decision requiring the approval of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

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

He is also 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.

Three men identified by prosecutors as leaders in the M Street gang — John L. Franklin, 33, George “Shug” Wilson, 37, and William Dee Robinson, 30, a former D.C. Public Schools bus driver — already are serving life sentences in the case. More than 30 people have been arrested, but Gooch is the only defendant facing the death penalty.

Nicknamed “Goo,” Gooch was considered “crazy” by other gang members and assumed the role of “enforcer” or “muscle,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Darlene M. Soltys wrote in a recent court memo.

“He was perceived as having no regard for life and had as his motto ‘live for the block, die for the block,’” Miss Soltys wrote.

Prosecutors say the killings were committed “in furtherance of the M Street Crew’s racketeering enterprise,” which under federal law, they say, makes Gooch eligible for the death penalty.

Gooch’s attorneys, Jensen E. Barber II and Thomas Todd Heslep, declined to comment for this story. However, Mr. Barber recently filed a 104-page memorandum in which he outlined sharp opposition to the death penalty if his client is convicted.

The memorandum argues against capital punishment “on the grounds it violates fundamental fairness in the administration of justice and is at odds with basic notions of human dignity, civility and compassion.”

In addition to arguing a host of procedural and constitutional issues, Mr. Barber noted voters in the District have “continually rejected the death penalty.”

In Gooch’s case, Mr. Barber also argued, “we are dealing with garden-variety murders.”

“It may be a sad commentary on our violent society, but those in the system know that there are murders, and there are murders,” hewrote. “The law says the death penalty is supposed to be reserved for the ‘worst’ murders.”

Mr. Barber argued the case should be prosecuted in D.C. Superior Court, not federal court.

“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,” he wrote.

If the case were prosecuted in D.C. Superior Court, Gooch would not face the death penalty.

But federal prosecutors say Gooch committed federal crimes.

Citing an organized racketeering conspiracy, they describe the M Street Crew in court memos as “a well-defined, traditional chain conspiracy with various roles assigned to people, such as foot soldiers, runners and lieutenants.”

Gang members also held meetings to decide who could sell drugs in the neighborhood, what to do if “the feds” brought charges, and where to stash drugs and how to package them, prosecutors say.

Some gang members were photographed flashing the letter “M” to each other by twisting their fingers, authorities say. And Gooch called meetings, kicked out blackballed members and enforced rules about where dealers could sell drugs, according to prosecutors.

Gooch killed Miss Miller and Mr. Cooper in part amid suspicion they were cooperating with investigators, prosecutors said. The FBI and Metropolitan Police Department investigation into the M Street Crew included thousands of hours of taped phone conversations from a wire tap, video-camera footage, confidential informants and undercover agents, court records show.

Mr. Cooper’s sister, Barbara Cooper, said in a telephone interview that she favors the death penalty for Gooch if he is convicted.

“All of them were living the street life,” she said. “If you want to sell drugs and be a big time hustler, that’s on you. But you still don’t have the right to take somebody’s life. My brother used to say “I’ve got to get myself together, I don’t want to live like this.

“He never hurt anybody, and they hunted him down like a dog.”

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 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 in 19 murders and Moore was found guilty in 10 murders. The deadlock meant both received life in prison without parole.

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

In another still pending case in federal court in the District, federal authorities in 2004 filed a notice to seek the death penalty against three defendants charged with killing two American tourists in Uganda in 1999.

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