It was 1:30 a.m., and Marlene Ramallo Cooke, stylish widow and former government drug informant, was piloting her Land Rover down 23rd Street NW with the lights off.
U.S. Park Police Officer Jeffrey Muller pulled her over and wrote a ticket. He began to suspect the woman who twice married longtime Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke had been drinking when he smelled her strong perfume.
"Something was out of place," Muller testified yesterday in D.C. Superior Court.
"My suspicion was aroused about the alcohol because, like I said, I smelled the strong odor of perfume. Normally, you don't get a strong, overpowering smell of perfume in an ordinary traffic stop."
Muller concluded that Cooke was inebriated, as did two D.C. police officers. She went in handcuffs to the booking desk. Since then, in keeping with Cooke's tendency toward the flamboyant, nothing much has seemed ordinary about the case.
"What a waste of money and time," Cooke sighed during a break in the trial.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Anthony C. Gagliardi will try to convince a 12-member jury during closing arguments today that Cooke was driving under the influence on Nov. 5 when Muller pulled her over.
Prosecutors said they would seek as much as one year in jail and a $5,000 fine because Cooke pleaded guilty in 1994 to driving while impaired. She was arrested in that case after she sped through Georgetown with a man clinging to the hood of her Jaguar. In 1986, she pleaded guilty to a cocaine conspiracy charge.
Cooke's attorney, John Perazich, once declared that she intended to plead guilty in the latest case, but she decided to face a jury. After a single day of testimony yesterday, the government and defense rested their cases. Cooke's fiance took the stand, but she did not. "Too emotional," she told Judge William H. Jackson.
The heart of the government's case is the word of the three officers, who each said she failed a series of sobriety tests in the 1200 block of 23rd Street NW. In questioning Muller, Perazich derided the tests as "this early-morning escapade on the sidewalk."
Muller, who described Cooke as wearing a low-cut dress and high-heeled shoes that night, said her eyes were red and glassy. D.C. Officer Dennis Fair said she "pretty much staggered" when she tried to walk a straight line.
"While I was attempting to explain," Fair said, "she lost her balance."
To suggest that Cooke's sartorial habits were more to the point than her drinking habits, Perezich borrowed one of Cooke's well-polished shoes to display to Muller--and the jury. The heels were a good four inches high.
Officer Lynn Garrison, summoned to search Cooke and handcuff her, said Cooke answered, "You're kidding," when told she was under arrest. She said Cooke, declining to take a breath test, explained that her attorney "advised her always to refuse."
Muller was the only officer who saw Cooke drive. He told the jury that he followed her for several blocks when he spotted the Land Rover running without its lights. She was not driving erratically, he said, and broke no other traffic rules.
The lone defense witness was Anders Ulle, Cooke's fiance, who described himself as an international telecommunications consultant. He said Cooke drank at most one glass of wine that night and was "shivering so hard" because of the November cold.
"She was sober," Ulle said. "She was the designated driver."