Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Starbucks Shooter

Not as Easy as It Seemed

Cooper plead not guilty to all of the charges. He said that under extreme pressure he had lied about his role in the Starbucks slayings. The police had falsely said they had lifted his fingerprints from the coffee shop, so he'd felt trapped. He'd then told the Prince George's County detectives what they wanted to hear. Thus, said his attorney, Cooper's constitutional rights had been violated and his confession should not be admitted into any courtroom proceedings.

Three different detectives testified at a hearing that Cooper had not been coerced; he had voluntarily given his statement. He was offered food, allowed to rest during his fifty-four-hour interrogation, and had been treated fairly. "He was willing to talk to us," said Detective Troy Hardin, "anxious to talk to us." They claimed he had waived his right to an attorney, and there had been no question based on his intelligence level as to whether he'd been competent to understand his rights.

The detectives insisted they had advised Cooper repeatedly throughout the four-day, marathon session that he could remain silent or have an attorney present. At all times, he had been focused and comfortable, with no overt signs of anxiety. He had even signed seven statements agreeing to waive his rights and talk, and the descriptions of his crimes were largely in his own handwriting. Three of the statements were about the Starbucks killings. "It was almost like a sense of relief," said another detective, "as if now this monkey was off his back."

The police nonetheless were discomfited by this Cooper's repudiation of his confession. Without the confession, they had little to tie Cooper to the slayings. They had not recovered either weapon in the slayings and had no fingerprints or trace evidence that definitively put him at the scene on the fatal night. While Cooper's description accurately matched the crime scene and wound patterns, and several of his associates would say he had talked about the incident, that was largely circumstantial.

Public defender Francis D. Carter joined Kiersch to prepare for the trial. They argued that the questioning should have stopped after the initial FBI interrogation, when Cooper had stated, "Killing is not my style" and had denied any involvement in the shootings. A public defender had even insisted at that time that the questioning should stop, and yet later that day Cooper began making statements, presumably at someone's instigation.

Dramatization: Police Investigator Speaks
Dramatization: Police Investigator Speaks

It was now up to a judge to decide.

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