Victim's family assails Starbucks investigation D.C. police botched case, say relatives of Caity Mahoney

September 30, 1997|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In the last journal entry that Caity Mahoney ever composed, just before her death in a triple slaying at a Georgetown Starbucks coffee shop, she recalled a conversation with her family. She was feeling guilty about having fired someone she supervised and had sought comfort in her relatives.

"I spoke to Mom, Dad, Ginny and my grandmas today," Mahoney wrote. "It was so good to hear their loving voices."

That journal sits in the Baltimore home of Mahoney's mother, offering a small glimpse of the last days of her daughter's life. It is one of the few details unearthed in the 12 weeks since the killings July 6 in Georgetown -- a sad reminder of how little progress has been made in the investigation.

Clues have been intriguing but incomplete, police sources say, the leads promising but ultimately inconclusive. With reports showing that the District of Columbia's record of solving homicides is among the worst in the nation, the Mahoney family has grown frustrated and resentful.

Just yesterday, the Mahoney family denounced district police for having allowed a suspect to leave custody the day after the slayings wearing tennis shoes that appeared to be flecked with blood. FBI and police sources acknowledge that the suspect left with the sneakers. But they add that they seized the shoes the next day, tested the spots and found no trace of blood.

The Mahoney family counters that the incident nevertheless reflects a pattern of shoddy work by the police, noting that -- even if just for 24 hours -- a suspect was able to walk away wearing potential evidence. The suspect could have cleaned the shoes, or even swapped pairs, before police came to collect them, the family noted.

Here is what family members and law enforcement sources report they do know: Whoever shot Mahoney, 25, Aaron Goodrich, 18, and Emory Evans, 25, probably did not do so alone. And in all likelihood, at least one assailant had some connection to Starbucks and knew there would be more than $15,000 in the safe at the end of the July 4th weekend, when the killings occurred.

Police have questioned 40 people but have no prime suspects. The employee who was fired because Mahoney had caught him stealing moved to California after the slayings and hired a lawyer before District of Columbia detectives could ask him to take a lie-detector test. Police do not regard the former employee as a suspect.

Investigators believe the bullets were fired by a panicked and inexperienced burglar, one who never bothered to take any money. Detectives estimate that the slayings took only 20 seconds. Mahoney died with the keys to the safe in one hand; her other hand was draped over her face.

But these details, investigators say, do not amount to any answers. "To be honest with you, this is a case where I have absolutely nothing," said a police source close to the investigation. "If someone knows about it, they're just not coming forward."

District police are sensitive to criticism of the investigation, particularly after a recent spate of management and financial problems in the department. Police Chief Larry Soulsby shook up the homicide unit this month after learning that the city's success in solving homicide cases was far below the national average.

Against this backdrop, families of the Starbucks victims -- particularly the Mahoneys -- insist the police have botched the case.

Mahoney's stepsister, Melissa Gray, has criticized the handling of the sneakers, noting that the evidence could have been tampered with before it was returned to police.

Virginia Mahoney, who learned she had liver cancer 11 days after her stepdaughter's death, rose from her sick-bed in Towson yesterday to berate the district Police Department for what she called its sloppy evidence collection.

"I'm furious," Mahoney, who helped victims' families for six years for the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore, said in an interview. "If there's one thing I know, it's service to crime victims, and we're not getting it."

Mahoney's family also accused the police of failing to interrogate two women who sued Caity Mahoney unsuccessfully after kicking her out of a shared apartment in Takoma Park. And they wondered why it took a call from U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia this month before investigators from the district personally visited Baltimore to give the family an update.

District police say they have five investigators on the case and are acting with utmost care. As for the shoes, police say, the stains were never considered serious evidence. Said one detective: "It's paint, it's mud, it's Kool-Aid -- whatever it is, it isn't blood."

They add that the lawsuit against Mary Caitrin Mahoney does not seem related to the crime. "What does getting sued have to do with getting murdered?" asked one police source close to the case. Police said they did not need to question Mahoney's former roommates.

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