Starbucks Suspect Faces Host of Charges |
By Bill Miller
Cooper, who has been in custody since March in the Starbucks case, also is accused of killing a security guard in Northwest Washington in 1993 and attempting to kill an off-duty Prince George's County police officer in 1996. Like the July 1997 slayings of three employees at the coffee shop in Northwest Washington, the other violence took place during robberies, prosecutors said.
A federal grand jury also indicted Cooper on charges involving four other robberies in recent years in the District, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Prosecutors said employees were caught by surprise and held up at gunpoint at a pizza shop, a massage parlor, a community center and a bank.
U.S. Attorney Wilma A. Lewis described Cooper as the leader of a "small but violent racketeering enterprise" that raised thousands of dollars through carefully staged robberies. The indictment said Cooper led other accomplices in most of the alleged crimes. In the Starbucks case, however, Lewis said all credible evidence indicates he acted alone.
Lewis would not talk about other suspects, saying those matters were pending. Sources familiar with the investigation said some of Cooper's alleged former partners have been cooperating with authorities. The indictment cryptically said Cooper worked with "others known and unknown" to the grand jury.
The indictment was returned yesterday morning and announced hours later by Lewis and other area law enforcement officials.
The charges included racketeering, conspiracy, first-degree murder while armed, robbery, burglary and numerous weapons offenses.
Lewis said prosecutors could seek the death penalty against Cooper but insisted no decision has been made.
Allegations that tied Cooper to the Starbucks killings emerged soon after his arrest, when prosecutors charged him with three counts of felony murder in D.C. Superior Court. Police began focusing on him as a suspect after getting a tip last summer from the girlfriend of one of his acquaintances. Cooper was arrested in March and questioned for 54 hours about a number of violent crimes in the area, including the Starbucks case, eliciting written statements from him in which he said he was the killer.
Cooper, 30, told authorities that he went into the coffeeshop at 1810 Wisconsin Ave. NW the evening of July 6, 1997, armed with two handguns. He said he opened fire when his robbery plans met resistance, killing store manager Mary Caitrin Mahoney, 20, and employees Emory Evans, 25, and Aaron David Goodrich, 18. He said he fled after the shootings, never getting any money.
Defense attorney Steven R. Kiersh has contended that Cooper's lengthy interrogation raises questions about anything he said. Kiersh also has argued that no physical evidence links Cooper to the Starbucks shop. Yesterday he said Cooper intended to plead not guilty to all the charges against him.
Kiersh said he will "vigorously contest the indictment and prepare for trial before a jury that can hear both sides of this very contested matter."
The Starbucks case now moves with Cooper to U.S. District Court, where he is to be arraigned today. Yesterday's indictment provided no new details about the Starbucks investigation, but it painstakingly portrayed the actions that summer night as part of a much broader and long-running pattern of mayhem.
"Obviously the Starbucks incident has received the most attention from the media," said D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. "It's very clear this is not just one isolated crime this individual was responsible for."
Police from the District and Prince George's County worked on the investigation with the FBI and numerous other law enforcement agencies in what authorities described as a classic case of cooperation. Had they not shared resources, Ramsey said, Cooper "might very well still be on the streets."
The other killing cited in the indictment took place in May 1993 at an apartment building in the 1100 block of 11th Street NW. Sandy Griffin, a 39-year-old security officer, was on duty in the lobby when Cooper allegedly shot him. The indictment said that Cooper and "another known to the Grand Jury" took Griffin's pistol.
Prince George's authorities earlier had linked Cooper to the August 1996 shooting of off-duty police officer Bruce Howard, who was accosted at a park in Hyattsville. Howard was shot in the lower back in a crime that the indictment blamed on Cooper and unnamed others. Charges were filed against Cooper in that case earlier this year in Prince George's County.
Cooper has been in and out of the criminal justice system since 1988, when he was convicted in Montgomery County on possession of cocaine. At the time of his arrest, he was living with his wife and son in Northeast Washington.
The indictment alleges Cooper and others wore masks and gloves in carrying out robberies and sometimes stole cars for their getaways. The robberies allegedly took place between 1993 and 1996 at Pizza Italia, in Takoma Park; Chevy Chase Bank, in Bethesda; the Velvet Touch Health Spa, in Harrisburg, Pa., and the Rollingcrest-Chillum Community Center in Hyattsville.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company