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Post Magazine
This Week: Solving the Starbucks Case
Hosted by D.C. Police Detective Jim Trainum
and FBI Special Agent Brad Garrett

Special to The Washington Post

Monday, March 3, 2003; 1 p.m. ET

More than two months after three young employees were killed at a Georgetown Starbucks in 1997, D.C police detective Jim Trainum and FBI special agent Brad Garrett got an anonymous tip that pointed them toward Carl Cooper as a suspect. Then their real work began, as Jeff Leen reports in his article "A Dance With Death" in Sunday's Washington Post Magazine.

Trainum and Garrett were online Monday, March 3 at 1 p.m. ET, to field questions and comments about the article and the Starbucks investigation.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.



Washington, D.C.: Jim,
1.Regarding Sgt. Joe McCann at P.G. County, is this "second generation" law enforcement -- son of "JT"?
2: Regarding ballistics testing and breachface mark identification -- was this by PG Co. Firearms Section or by FBI?
3. I thought the story was very accurate except about 10 wasted lines that mentioned the "Hat Squad GQ officer." NO -- I didn't say "detective," no one ever believed him to be. Good write-up and well deserved. No surprises. Stay dedicated

Brad, "Doctor Death?" Not for one moment did I think this title fit. I may have a few "old open cases" if you need the work!

Congratulations to both of you. Paul O'Brien

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: From Jim Trainum

Good to hear from you....and yes...that is the second generation of McCann’s . The Firearms work was done by PG and MPD. And why don’t we get in touch...I do have a bunch of cold cases were your name comes up (in a good way). And about the “Hat Squad”...I thought you were a charter member..


Lyme, Conn.: Your styles are different according to the article. Is that helpful in working together, or does it pose problems? Also, Agent Garrett, who gave you the nickname Dr. Death?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: From Jim Trainum

Though very different, we are both the same in our investigative approach...our differences work well in that folks who are drawn to Brad are not to me and vice versa....

As to Dr. Death...that was not a name that Brad picked for himself...just like I would not have picked “plumpish”, as Jeff Leen called me as a description of myself – but we have no control of how we appear to others......


Arlington, Va.: I understand the Starbucks tragic murders were the result of a botched robbery by someone who had seemingly no remorse for taking a human life (along with killing a police officer). Was the safe in Starbucks a combination type safe in which Caity was the only one there who had the combination? It seems he would have taken the money if he could have. But she resisted and he shot her and then couldn't get the safe open, right?

Would he have also killed them had he gotten the money? He seems so ruthless

Thanks

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: From Jim Trainum

I don’t think it is fair to Caity to say that she “resisted” in that it might be as simple someone there not doing something fast enough for Carl. He had come close to shooting people in other robberies when they committed very “minor” infractions of rules. Of what Carl told us about what happened in the store...we know a lot of it was very self-serving....confessions usually are. As to whether or not he would have killed even if he got the money – we have no idea, though we do know that in another robbery, he killed a security guard who offered no known resistance.



Giving Cooper the Shake Down: I really enjoyed the article. However, I have a question, and I hope you can offer an honest answer.

Your use of monitoring Cooper and giving him a sense of dread that you were out to get him really worked to your advantage. Because of the psychological impact, he offered the confession you needed. Pyschology is a very powerful weapon and can be used to get very bad people off the street. On the other, it can also break completely innocent individuals who find that the only way out of intense marathon interrogations is through self-implication and "confessing" to the crime in question.

What can we as a society -- and you as professionals -- do in order to make sure that confessions are not wrung out of otherwise innocent people?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: From Jim Trainum

We both agree...false confessions are a hazard. I have actually obtained two false confessions in my career. The first took some time to unravel. The system does have its checks and balances, but we do have to constantly be careful that something does not fall through the cracks. I am currently working on a project which involves looking at old DNA in old cases...and fully support such laws at the Innocence Protection Act and such programs as the Innocence Project. There can not be too many safeguards.


Silver Spring, Md.: Not to take away from the detectives, but informant 234 is the real hero of this case, whatever his/her reason. Why was not 234 discussed more in detail in the piece and are we ever going to find out who the person is? Thanks.

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: From Jim Trainum

What you know about caller 234 is what we know. We never heard from him again.


Washington, D.C.: The otherwise thorough article brushes aside the horrible treatment given to Eric Butera. Indeed, it fails to mention that the District's handling of Mr. Butera resulted in the largest jury verdict at the time against the government. Although the damages were reduced, the underlying finding that the District Police were way out of line still stands. Why was this omitted? And in full disclosure, what role did the two profiled (and clearly effective) detectives play in this fiasco?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: From Jim Trainum

A lot about the Starbucks case was omitted because of space issues. As to my role...the way the investigation was run was that the leads were split up. Brad and I had the Cooper lead. Though I participated in the initial interview of Eric, we had no other role in the investigation of that lead. Neither Brad nor I were aware that Eric was going in to make the buy that night



District Chop House: For Agent Garrett - Did your girlfriend forgive you for cutting short that ski vacation? And along those same lines, does a life of fighting crime allow for much of a personal life?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: From Jim Trainum

Sorry, Brad is not here yet...he is running late (he had to speak at a retirement function). I hesitate to answer as it would violate the “partnership rules of the road”, but what do you think happened? As to the personal life question....what is a “personal life”?



New Carrollton, Md.: An e-mail has been widely circulated on the Internet that lists the death of Mary Mahoney as being one of a number of "suspicious deaths" of people that were known by President Bill Clinton. Can you comment on the veracity of any link between these two people? Is the link between the two just an Urban Legend?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: From Jim Trainum

There was no evidence whatsoever that Caity's death had anything to do with Bill Clinton. Of course, me just saying so will do nothing for the "true believers".


Washington, D.C.: How hard was it working inside the black community? If you two were black, would it be easier?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: From Jim Trainum

For some folks, white or black, race is always an issue. With those folks, it takes a little longer to get over that wall. Working in any community is a matter of building trust and relationships. If you are lucky, you can develop that with someone very quickly. Because of a person's past experiences, trust building often takes much longer. Brad and I were so successful in this and other cases in that we try to acknowledge the existing initial lack of trust and are willing to take the time and energy to overcome it. People are people, and if you just do what you say you will do, you can overcome any situation.


Virginia: Can the FBI be involved in solving a local crime? Or when it cannot?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: From Jim Trainum

The FBI works very closely with us in many local crimes - we are unique in that, being the city that we are, local crimes can quickly become federal...just by the use of a phone or crossing of the city limits. Also, DC does not have its own forensic lab, so all of our trace evidence and DNA evidence analysis is done by the FBI.

Also, it does not have to be a Federal crime for the FBI to get involved. We invite them in on all kinds of cases and I have never known them to refuse any help to us in any case.


Vienna, Va.: What do you think of the television show The Wire on HBO? Is it true to life? What is accurate about detective work and inaccurate about it as portrayed on the show?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: From Jim Trainum

The bad thing about what we do is that we often don't have a chance, or even avoid some of the programs like The Wire (actually, I don't even have cable, which make me kinda of a dinosaur) -


Washington, D.C.: What a gripping story and article. My fiance and I could not stop talking about it throughout the day. We were most impressed and taken aback by the calm and focus Det Trainum and Agent Garrett showed throughout the investigation. As you stated earlier, there's no way to truly know what went on in the store. But the one thing we took from the story as written was -- always give the robber what he wants. Is this considered good or bad advice?

And God Bless the victims and their families. Thanks.

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: From Jim Trainum

When it comes to giving robbers what they want....there is a very good book called "The Code of the Streets" which talks about proper "mugger etiquette" for both the robber and the victim. But the short answer is...probably yes. However, there is so much else that can go wrong, the wrong look, the wrong move. I spent time as a professional victim...I was a decoy set up to be robbed. I was pretty successful in that I submitted totally, did not look the robber, etc.


North Springfield, Va.: After working so long and hard to convict someone such as Cooper, what happens when parole comes up? Do you believe a man such as Cooper could ever be rehabilitated?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: Cooper was sentenced on multiple life counts and will never have a chance for parole.


Bethesda, Md.: Did you worry about taking the gun from Cooper's wife? Did you figure you just couldn't use it against her in court?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: We were very careful how we seized the gun. Both Carl and his wife had told us (on tape) that they wanted to turn the gun over to us. We knew that it was evidence in at least one crime (the illegal purchase of a firearm) so once we had it in "plain view" we could seize it without a warrant.

This whole investigation was a real team effort with Brad, myself and the attorney meeting daily...all of this was discussed (as much possible) beforehand.


Re: 234: Would you have been able to crack this case without 234?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: Maybe...some clues about Carl came in much later...but 234 gave us a major head start allowing us to take advantage of those later clues.


Fairfax, Va.: Det. Trainum,

When Cooper began the talk about stalking you, do you believe he knew that he was "live" and therefore sending a message to intimidate you? Also, what has become of his wife? Was she ever prosecuted for the gun?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: Actually, we knew that Carl was talking about killing us much earlier on. He had spoken to "The Birthday Girl" long before the taped conversation. I think this happens more than we know (It has happened to me on at least one other occasion) but we just don't have the type of intelligence in those cases like we had here.

As part of Carl's plea agreement, we did not go after his wife for the gun.


Cottage City, Md.: Now that we know how this violent and intelligent young man succeeded for years at ducking the penalty for his crimes, how do we use this information to prevent it from happening again? How do we prevent people like this from getting guns through "innocent" relatives? Can stores protect themselves better now that they know how we was casing them? Can they train their employees better?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: Such a loaded question....Starbucks has taken this case and made major changes in the way they do business. Brad and I both do a lot of public speaking and use those occasions to try to teach both law enforcement and the public the lessons we learned.


Washington, D.C.: I enjoyed the article tremendously. Congratulations to both of you on a job well done. Regarding cold cases generally, how long do you "keep plugging" before declaring a case officially unsolved? Or is there always some work being done on a case until it is solved? I'm sure the higher-profile ones (Chandra Levy, etc.) are ongoing, but what about others? I am reminded of a case that was profiled a year or two ago in the Post magazine about a young couple murdered in Reston. I think it was over 10 years ago. At what point do you have to turn your attentions to more recent crimes that you have a better chance of solving? Thank you for doing what you do. We need more people like the both of you in law enforcement!

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: Actually, what I am working on now is a project (called the Predator Murder Project) where we are going back as far as possible to examine old evidence for possible DNA. I am working on a system where old cases are constantly reviewed looking for new clues - there is no statue of limitations on murder so we should work towards a system where no family gives up hope and no murder feels safe, as long as they are alive.

Councilmember Kathy Patterson of the DC City Council has recently proposed a law mandating the preservation of homicide evidence and files for at least 50 years...in my opinion, this is a start


South of the Beltway: About 20+ years ago I worked with the MPDC in a clerical position. I discovered the detectives didn't talk to each other about on-going cases. They were very territorial about their case load, apparently somebody else might crack the case and get the glory. In one instance I found the same person was a suspect in two different street murders and the detectives in those cases weren't aware of this until I pointed it out to the Lieutenant. Is this still the routine operating procedure?

Please explain to the general public that cases aren't assigned according to expertise and experience of the detectives, like in the movies. If a murder happens on your shift, and you have the IQ of a door knob, that case is yours. It may or may not get closed because of the pure luck of the work schedule.

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: They are trying to put databases in place so that there is cross checking of names, suspects, cases, etc so that this sort of thing doesn't happen...the problem is that someone has to collect the data, put it in and maintain the system. As you know, any database is as good as the info in it.


Washington, D.C.: How do you guys work the nerve to approach a dangerous fellow, like Cooper and how do you maintain calm and have a conversation with someone like that without giving out too much information or make them feel threatened? What runs through your mind when you are put in a situation like that?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: We approached Cooper as an individual as you do folks in everyday life...we did try to create a situation where he would be less likely to over-react by altering who interviewed him, where the contact took place, who was around, etc. Sometimes we were not as successful as we wished. But the job has to involve taking chances...if you tried to totally take the risk out of such contacts, you would never get anything accomplished


Washington, D.C.: Jim,

Great write up you two. I had the pleasure of meeting you during the course of the investigation back in 1998, and was very impressed by both of you. It was great to read how it went down. Do you think if it weren't for the gun, it would have been a lot harder linking the crimes to Cooper?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: Actually, we think that the gun was the "icing on the cake". It did make it easier to like his wife to the crimes.


Arlington, Va.: Do you guys plan to write a book about your experience with this crime?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: We thought about sparing the world yet another book written by homicide cops, but Jeff may have other ideas.


North Springfield, Va.: How often do you estimate the FBI were involved in our area police work up until 9/11? Do you think the new FBI concentration on terrorism will hurt our areas police efforts?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: Plug for the Washington Post...they actually have an article about this in the Metro section today.


Herndon, Va.: Cooper confessed to his horrible crime after a life of crime. There are several references in the article to other cases where presumably hardened criminals also gave confessions. Cooper and the others must have been under interrogation before. What makes these men finally confess?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: There is really no simple answer to that questions. It depends on so may variables to include, the type of crime, where they are in their life at the time, what type of sentence they are facing and, many times, whether they believe it is in their best interest to confess.


Chappaqua, N.Y.: Agent Garrett

Has working on these type of cases impacted on your personal life in any way?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: ABSOLUTELY!!!!!! If done right, this work is really not designed to have a mate....


Washington, D.C.: What happened to Carl Cooper's wife/girlfriend Melissa and son? Is she in denial that Carl committed the murders?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: We do not know where she is today. She told us around the time of the plea that she didn't believe that Carl did it (though she spoke of his other crimes on the wire)


Washington, D.C.: Has Starbuck's given you two a lifetime supply of coffee?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: We wish...based on the amount we drink daily, they would go bankrupt.


Washington, D.C.: From the article, it seems Carl Cooper is a vindictive man wiling to wait a few years to get revenge on people who "told" on him. Was there any concern that Cooper will eventually come after the "Barber" or any of the other people who helped work towards Cooper's arrest revealed (though by not name) in the Magazine story?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: From what we know about Carl, he has no support outside who would be willing to carry through any revenge for him.


Arlington, Va.: How was this case different than other cases (that lacked evidence) you have investigated?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: Not very...you are dealt the cards you get and sometimes you get luckier than others. The main thing is to follow-through on the lucky breaks...no matter how small.


Washington, D.C.: Are either of you gentlemen in favor of the efforts in Congress and elsewhere to create a database of ballistics information/profiles from each weapon BEFORE it is sold in the U.S.?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: Both of us are in favor


Washington, D.C.: What kind of effect, if any, does media coverage like this (or a book, or one of those Discovery channel crime shows) have on the work that you do? Does raising your profile help the work?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: It cuts both ways...sometimes "on the street" it allows you to build trust with witnesses/informants quicker -


Arlington, Va.: I'm currently studying for my master's in forensic science from GW. What advice do you have for prospective criminal investigators and detectives?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: Lots of departments have intern programs for folks like yourself...this is an excellent way to learn the "nuts and bolts" of the job.


Georgia: Wow - what a fun job you guys have! My question is about "naming" the informants. Do you have any fear that people who know who "The Barber" or any of your other informants will try to hunt them down for "snitching" on Carl Cooper? That was in the back of my mind as I was reading the story - because even by not naming them, you identified them. I'm so glad they did what they did, but now I'm a little worried for them.

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: We spend a lot of time making sure that they were safe...Carl is no longer in a position to harm them and they are now out of "the life" so have no real fear.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Approximately how many tips and leads did you have to go through before you found the correct tip that set you in the right direction? That is a major part of police work, yet it is the long, hard work that never gets the notice. I commend you on your work.

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: Though we don't have an exact count, there were at least a hundred before "the tip" came in. But remember, we still had to keep working the other leads throughout. We had so little info on Carl at first that we had to keep reminding folks that the "Cooper lead" could fall through at any minute. We had to work just has hard to prove that Cooper was not the person as to prove that he was...just to make sure that he was the right one.


Silver Spring, Md.: Didn't Starbuck's say they would be donating the profits from that store to the victim's families?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: They donate all net profits of the store to various charities.


Mt. Rainier, Md.: That was a marvelous article on the kind of REAL police work that has to happen to convict a clever killer. I think there's great value to educating the public in what has to happen to remove these people from our streets. First there has to be someone willing to tell what they know, or guess, like the phoner (#234?) that gave them a number of useful and detailed tips. Did they ever figure out who it was that knew so much about the Starbucks case?

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: No, he never called back....we have some idea as to his relationship to Carl, but not his identity


Arlington, Va.: Hi: We are indebted to you both for solving this case. Thank you so much for removing such a violent person from the community.

After reading the piece, I wonder who Caller 234 was? He or she seemed to point you in the right direction along with the tip from the person who called America's Most Wanted. I wonder if these people ran in the same circles as Carl Cooper? How did they know?

Also it seems in some ways, Carl Cooper was careful about not implicating himself, but in other ways he seemed a talker of the crime to his robber group of friends. Did he brag or talk to his friends (Man, Barber, surgeon daughter, and his wife) about the crime, who ended up cooperating with you'all and bringing him down?

Thanks.

Det. Jim Trainum and Agent Brad Garrett: The informants seem to have run in the same general circles, but neither had any direct knowledge...Carl did tell at least one other person, and that may be where the other's got their info.


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