Kevin Cooper has been on death row in California’s San Quentin prison for over three decades after being accused of killing four people in 1983. Cooper has maintained his innocence. The now-61-year-old requested additional DNA testing to prove that he did not commit the crime, which was granted, thus garnering the attention of Senator Kamala Harris and reality TV star Kim Kardashian.
Cooper told CBS News’ Erin Moriarty last year that he cannot “take responsibility for murders I did not commit.” He was sentenced to the death penalty for the hatchet and knife killings of Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old neighbor. The Ryen’s 8-year-old son survived after being slashed in the throat.
According to The Appeal, Cooper’s trial in the case was “racially charged.” His attorney, Norman Hile, said that he “didn’t have a half-decent defense.”
New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof penned a column on Cooper’s case, detailing how he was framed by law enforcement. “In 1983, four people were murdered in a home in Chino Hills, California,” he wrote. “The sole survivor of the attack said three white intruders had committed the murders. Then a woman told the police that her boyfriend, a white convicted murderer, was probably involved, and she gave deputies his bloody coveralls. So here’s what sheriff’s deputies did: They threw away the bloody coveralls and arrested a young black man named Kevin Cooper.”
Last February, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered additional DNA testing that Cooper says could prove his innocence, according to CBS News. The testing will include “a green button and hair, blood and fingernail scrapings from the victims.”
During Moriarty’s research into the case, she found that there was evidence pointing to another suspect. It was also learned at the trial that a sheriff’s deputy destroyed the evidence. Apparently, Diana Roper, who has since passed away, found bloodied overalls that belonged to her boyfriend, who has a violent criminal past. Roper turned the pants in to police.
“Wouldn’t you say that taking in coveralls that appear to be covered in blood, not sending them to a lab and throwing them away before trial would be highly unusual?” Moriarty asked Floyd Tidwell, who was the sheriff at the time. He then replied, “I don’t know that that happened. I’m very vague on that.”
There was additional evidence that suggested that the killers were either white or Hispanic.
Prosecutors said that prior DNA testing showed that Cooper killed all four people. It also allegedly proved that Cooper was in the Ryen’s home, smoked cigarettes in the family’s stolen station wagon and that Cooper’s blood, as well as the blood of at least one victim was found on a T-shirt by the side of the road near the scene of the murders, according to the report.
District Attorney Jason Anderson, who opposed Cooper being granted additional DNA testing, said in a statement, “Unfortunately, over time it seems the victims’ desire for justice in this case matters less and less. Prior DNA testing that Mr. Cooper sought, agreed to and claimed would exonerate him have all confirmed Mr. Cooper’s guilt and that Mr. Cooper’s allegations of evidence tampering were unfounded.”
Cooper’s attorney said the testing will lead to his client’s exoneration.
Judges have also spoken on the case, saying that the state of California “may be about to execute an innocent man.”
According to the Gadsden Times, “The judge who wrote the dissent, William A. Fletcher of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, argued that the police and prosecutors had withheld and tampered with evidence in the case for decades; Judge Fletcher even accused the district court of having sabotaged the case.”
California has not executed anyone since 2006.