WASHINGTON -- A 30-year-old District of Columbia man pleaded guilty yesterday to killing three workers -- including two longtime Baltimore-area residents -- in 1997 at a Starbucks coffeehouse in Georgetown. The plea was part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that will force him to spend the rest of his life in prison without a chance of parole.
A somber Carl Derek Cooper also pleaded guilty to killing a Washington apartment house security guard in 1993, attempted murder in 1996 and a series of armed robberies in Washington, Maryland and Pennsylvania that prosecutors called the handiwork of a ruthless criminal crew led by Cooper.
"This is an enormous tragedy" said Senior U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green in sentencing Cooper to life in a maximum-security federal penitentiary without possibility of parole or release.
In all, Cooper pleaded guilty to 47 criminal counts as part of an agreement in which prosecutors shelved the possibility of the death penalty earlier sought by Attorney General Janet Reno.
It would have been the first death penalty trial in Washington in nearly 30 years. The last execution was in 1957.
Family members of the victims, many of whom were in the crowded courtroom, said they generally supported the decision of U.S. Attorney Wilma Lewis to make the deal rather than face the prospect of a prolonged trial.
"The last thing we would want would be to sit through three months of this agony," said Patrick Mahoney, the father of Mary Caitrin Mahoney, the slain manager of the Starbucks store.
As part of the plea bargain, prosecutors agreed at Cooper's behest not to charge his mother or his wife, Melissa, with related, lesser crimes.
Kenneth L. Wainstein, an assistant U.S. attorney, described Cooper in court as the head of a thriving criminal business primed to use violence at the slightest sign of resistance. Wainstein said Cooper told associates, "If anyone bucks, bustle" -- meaning, if there isn't instant cooperation, shoot.
Prosecutors also charged that Cooper threatened the lives of several possible witnesses and two investigators.
On July 6, 1997, according to evidence and his words in court, Cooper entered the Starbucks shop in upper Georgetown and ordered the 25-year-old Mahoney to open the safe.
She attempted to flee. "I caught her out in the hallway," Cooper said. "She started to go for the gun, and the gun went off -- I shot her."
As for employees Emory Allen Evans, 25, and Aaron David Goodrich, 18, Cooper said, "I shot both of them."
A suspect for months in the Starbucks case, Cooper was arrested on March 1, 1999, on charges of shooting Bruce Howard, an off-duty Prince George's County police officer, after stealing $20 from Howard's companion. In several interviews with investigators, Cooper implicated himself in several other crimes, including the Starbucks killings, prosecutors said.
Mahoney, who grew up in Baltimore, moved to Washington months before her death and was said to enjoy the political luminaries who frequented her shop. Goodrich spent most of his life in Pikesville and moved to the capital in 1996. His mother described him as a young man excited by the idea of financial independence even as he clung to childhood joys of making elaborate Lego tableaux.
In contrast to the muted misery of the victims' relatives, many of whom wept during the proceedings, Cooper remained composed most of the day, speaking crisply when called upon. His beard was neatly trimmed, his hands were not cuffed, and he wore pressed khaki pants, white shirt and tie.
Cooper explained matter-of-factly how four years earlier he had shot the security guard, Sandy Griffin, 39, in the head.
Cooper's voice became choked with emotion only when he was asked, as his life sentence was about to be imposed, whether he was guilty of killing the three Starbucks employees.
He displayed no remorse.
At a news conference later, family members expressed their appreciation that Cooper would remain behind bars for life. But several acknowledged ambivalence that prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.
Griffin's relatives asked why it took the Starbucks murders for investigators to find Cooper, contending that police were less intent on solving the murders of blacks such as Griffin than the killings of whites, such as two of the three Starbucks victims.
Wainstein later said that Griffin's murder was like a "thunderbolt," a brazen shooting conducted without witnesses.
Francis D. Carter and Steven R. Kiersh, Cooper's court-appointed lawyers, declined to speak with reporters after the sentencing.
Jesse Griffin, brother of the slain security guard, embraced the family members of other victims at the end of the sentencing. Then he leaned over a bench to kiss the cheek of Cooper's elderly mother.