- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

Jury selection is set to begin today in a rare death penalty trial in the District for a D.C. man accused of killing five persons and firing shots at a police officer in his role as an enforcer for a large-scale PCP ring.

Larry Gooch, who faces murder, armed robbery, racketeering and other felony charges, is accused of doing the violent dirty work for the so-called M Street Crew, including carrying out the Feb. 21, 2003, fatal shootings of Yolanda Miller and her boyfriend, Calvin Cooper.

Prosecutors say Mr. Gooch killed the pair because he suspected they had been stealing drugs from other M Street Crew members or cooperating with law enforcement.

Mr. Gooch’s case marks the third capital murder trial in the District in three decades. Despite a D.C. law barring the death penalty, Mr. Gooch faces execution if convicted because he is charged with federal crimes.

The case could reignite debate about the death penalty in the District. Voters rejected capital punishment in a 1992 referendum.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, said yesterday that she plans to send a letter today to the U.S. attorney’s office outlining her opposition to the use of the death penalty.

“Nobody has anything to say for anybody who commits brutal crimes,” said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat. “But this is a particularly strong anti-death-penalty jurisdiction.

“I think it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to get 12 citizens of the District of Columbia to order the death penalty … and that shows a lack of understanding for the jurisdiction,” Mrs. Norton said.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, also opposes the death penalty. “The District law doesn’t permit the death penalty and, in general, Mayor Fenty supports that law,” spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said yesterday.

The U.S. attorney general ultimately must approve a decision on seeking the death penalty.

Defense attorneys had argued that the case shouldn’t be tried in federal court, but a judge last month denied the motion to throw out the death penalty.

Prosecutors say the death penalty is justified in the case of Mr. Gooch, whom they call the “muscle” behind the M Street Crew’s lucrative and violent trade.

The M Street Crew, operating in the area of 18th and M streets in Northeast, came under investigation by the District’s Safe Streets Task Force in 2003.

The task force, comprising federal and Metropolitan Police Department officers, made undercover drug buys, videotaped drug deals and ran a wiretap on one gang leader’s cell phone for two months, according to court records.

More than two dozen people were arrested by 2004, but Mr. Gooch is the only M Street Crew defendant facing a death penalty. Several of the gang’s leaders have been tried and convicted, including three men serving sentences of life in prison.

Portrayed by prosecutors as violent and unpredictable, Mr. Gooch grew up on M Street and went by the motto “Live for the block, die for the block,” according to documents filed by the government. He once shot at a police officer to provide a distraction during the arrest of another gang member, authorities say.

“People never knew what to expect from him,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Darlene M. Soltys noted in a recent court memo. “They did know he always carried a weapon.”

In addition to the Miller and Cooper killings, Mr. Gooch is charged in the Aug. 1, 2000, shooting deaths of Christopher Lane, 19, and William Cunningham, 27, as well as the Sept. 13, 2002, shooting death of Miguel Miles, 34.

Federal prosecutors have sought the death penalty in other gang-related cases in the District in recent years.

Kevin Gray and Rodney Moore, leaders of the so-called Murder Inc. drug gang, received life sentences after jurors deadlocked on the death penalty. Convicted in 2003, Gray was found guilty of 19 murders and Moore of 10 murders.

Federal prosecutors had filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Antwuan Ball and David Wilson, who are awaiting trial in the D.C. Jail on charges that they led the violent Congress Park Crew drug gang in Southeast.

However, a judge last year threw out capital punishment because prosecutors missed a key deadline to file documents in the case. It is not clear whether the U.S. attorney’s office will appeal the decision.

Jury selection in Mr. Gooch’s case is expected to last at least a week.

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