Lone Starbucks Suspect Charged
By Cheryl W. Thompson and Maria Elena Fernandez
Carl Derek Havord Cooper, the man questioned this week by law enforcement authorities about the 1997 triple slaying at a Starbucks coffee shop, was charged yesterday as the lone gunman in the case.
Cooper, 29, was charged with three counts of first-degree felony murder while armed in connection with the execution-style shootings of Mary Caitrin Mahoney, 25; Emory Allen Evans, 25; and Aaron David Goodrich, 18, at the store in Burleith, just north of Georgetown. If convicted of the charges, Cooper could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Two handguns of different calibers were used in the shootings; they have not been recovered. Cooper, who was charged earlier this week in the 1996 shooting of an off-duty Prince George's County police officer, allegedly used two handguns in that crime. When Cooper was arrested in a case in Montgomery County in 1988, police found ammunition for two different-caliber handguns in the car Cooper was driving.
Authorities also have released a man arrested Thursday on a felony weapons charge who had been questioned in connection with the killings. The U.S. attorney's office dismissed the weapons charge yesterday.
"It's one that took a lot longer than anybody standing here would have liked . . . but it was one of those that had to take this long," D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said at a news conference yesterday announcing the charges against Cooper. "I know this doesn't completely relieve the families of the victims, but hopefully this will help them get some peace of mind."
The victims were killed sometime after 9 p.m. on July 6, 1997, in an apparent botched robbery attempt. Their bodies were found in the coffee shop's back room the next morning by a female employee arriving for work. There were no signs of forced entry, and no money was taken from the cash register. The safe was unopened.
When detectives arrived at the scene, the only physical evidence was 10 shell casings. No witnesses ever came forward, but police believe two weapons were used in the killings.
D.C. Detective Tony Patterson, the first homicide detective on the scene in the Starbucks case, called it "one of the most difficult cases I've ever handled."
"It was one of those things that I knew was going to take time to prove, but I always knew it would be closed," said Patterson, who got a phone tip about Cooper two months after the killings.
A break in the case came last year when the television show "America's Most Wanted" repeated an episode about the slayings, law enforcement sources said. A woman who was dating someone who knew Cooper called D.C. police with a valuable tip: Cooper had told her boyfriend that he was the Starbucks killer.
The woman agreed to wear a wire for D.C. police and recorded her boyfriend's comments about Cooper's involvement. Prince George's police were simultaneously investigating Cooper in the shooting of an off-duty police officer. The two police departments worked with the FBI to build evidence against Cooper.
Cooper was raised in a red brick duplex in the 1200 block of Gallatin Street NE and continued to live there with his mother, his wife and their 4-year-old son. His father, who died about five years ago, a neighbor said, was a church deacon. Neighbors described Cooper as a nice man whom they had watched grow up in their North Michigan Park neighborhood.
However, Cooper also has been in and out of the criminal justice system since 1988, when he was convicted in Montgomery County of possession of cocaine.
Cooper's arrest ends a 20-month search for the killer of three young victims whose lives were taking shape. The grisly crime unnerved a city with one of the highest homicide rates in the country.
"He's given up everything," a source close to the investigation said, meaning Cooper told police enough during questioning to tie him to the killings.
Cooper initially was arrested Monday by Prince George's police and charged with shooting Officer Bruce Howard in a Hyattsville "Hopefully this will help [victims' families] get some peace of mind."
– ‚D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey
park. Authorities questioned him for more than 50 hours about that shooting and about a homicide in the District, other crimes in Prince George's and the District and the Starbucks slayings.
Cooper implicated Keith Covington and another person whom authorities haven't identified. Cooper told detectives that he and Covington tried to rob the Starbucks shop, and that Covington killed the employees, sources said.
Covington, 32, was arrested Thursday morning at his apartment in Mount Rainier on a felony weapons charge and questioned by eight FBI agents for 15 hours.
"I thought it was one of those times in my life that I was being framed," Covington said in an interview yesterday. "I thought Satan was trying to step on me just as I was trying to get my life together."
Covington, who lived in an apartment below Evans, said he knows Cooper but denied involvement in the case. He said he took a polygraph test and "prayed" that authorities would clear him. Law enforcement sources said yesterday that Covington passed the test.
"If I killed them, I'd say I killed them," Covington said. "But that's not me. I'm not saying I'm a saint, but I'm not going to go out and kill people."
Authorities said they were suspicious from the beginning when Cooper named Covington and another person because an earlier statement by Cooper was "100 percent consistent with the evidence" found at the crime scene, a source close to the investigation said.
Covington attended Coolidge High School but dropped out and later got his General Educational Development diploma. He enrolled in a medical assistant program but didn't complete it. He and Cooper grew up in the North Michigan Park neighborhood in Northeast Washington. The two played basketball together as youths at a community recreation center, Covington said.
"He was a little, skinny dude who talks fast and laughs at everything," Covington said. "I was one of the people he looked up to. He was always waving and speaking to me, and I'd speak to him and keep on going."
Covington said he was surprised that the young man he knows as "Li'l Cooper" is accused of one of the most heinous crimes in the District's history.
"I didn't know that Cooper," Covington said. "You've got to be a dummy or a psycho to do something like that. That was evil."
Covington was shot several times in the stomach in 1995 and wears a colostomy bag. His injuries have left him "unable to work much," according to his mother, Lois.
"I knew all the time he wasn't guilty," Lois Covington said. "I'm happy all this is over."
In the days following the homicides, D.C. detectives freely discussed possible suspects and released information about evidence. But after several mistakes, including a failure to seize a pair of shoes with a dark stain on them that may have belonged to the killer, few detectives were willing to discuss the case.
On the first anniversary of the killings, police officials said they were close to charging a suspect. Eight months passed before that suspect, Cooper, was charged.
Staff writer Linda Wheeler contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company