Saved From Execution
Still Fighting For Justice
Reprinted with permission 1-15-06
Kevin Cooper was wrongfully convicted of the 1983 murders of the Ryen
family in San Bernadino, California. He came within hours of
execution on Feb 9, 2004. The 11th hour stay was granted after a
battle inside and outside of the courtroom shed light on his innocence
and the numerous problems that exist in the state's case against him.
The case has been sent back to the federal district court.
Further evidence testing has begun, and activists expect a long legal
fight to ensure that the issues of tampering and police and
prosecutorial misconduct are raised. Overall, the defense attorneys
have found new evidence and witnesses that corroborate Kevin Cooper's
innocence claim, and that show the errors and concious misconduct on
the part of the state of California.
We know that left in the courts, Kevin Cooper may not be able to win
real justice. We need to continue to build a movement that can
show the flaws in his case and make the connections to the broad
problems that exist in the capital punishment system. We need to
demand a moratorium, so that Kevin Cooper and the other 630+ inmates on
death row in California do not have to face the machinery of death.
Here are some of the facts about the case, the long history of police
and prosecutorial misconduct, and some of the new information that has
surfaced since the stay of execution.
- At least three weapons were used in the brutal murders,
multiple perpetrators. A member of the American Board of Pathology said
it would be "virtually impossible" for one person to have committed
this crime. Prosecutors were unable to account for this, claiming
Kevin Cooper acted alone.
- Hostile, racist demonstrations were held near the
courthouse after Kevin Cooper was taken into custody. At one
demonstration a toy gorilla was hung in effigy.
- A pair of bloody coveralls was submitted to the police by a woman
claiming that they had been left at her house by her boyfriend, who she
believed was involved in the murders. Police records show that
the coveralls were deliberately disposed of in a dumpster by the police
without any testing. The woman was never brought in to testify.
This same woman has said that she bought her boyfriend a brown T-shirt
that matches a T-shirt found at the scene of the crime.
- A prison inmate confessed to the crime, providing his cellmate
with accurate information about the crime that was not in the
newspapers. The man who confessed was also a friend of the woman who
provided the bloody coveralls.
- Kevin Cooper had no motive for committing these brutal murders
and none was established at trial. He was in the wrong place at the
wrong time, having just escaped from a minimum-security institution
where he had been serving a sentence for a nonviolent offense.
Police found him an all too easy target.
- In 1983, a single, isolated drop of blood was found in the Ryen's
house at some distance from the murders. During the original trial,
prosecutors said the blood came from an African-American and suggested
that it provided a link to Kevin Cooper. Criminalist Daniel
Gregonis subsequently altered initial lab test results to fit Kevin's
profile. He also made a number of serious errors and failed to
follow proper procedure while conducting his initial tests.
- In 1999, several pieces of evidence from Kevin Cooper's case were
released to Gregonis without a court order or the knowledge of Kevin's
legal counsel. The reason for checking out the evidence for 24
hours was never explained. Evidence tampering would have been
very easy during this time. These events, combined with previous
mishandling, raise great concerns about the integrety of this evidence.
- The Sherrif's deputy who found the lone drop of blood at the
crime scene -- as well as a bloody shoeprint that somehow was not
discovered until it landed in the crime lab -- recently admitted he was
stealing five pounds of heroin -- which he both used and sold to drug
dealers -- from the evidence locker. The blood drop and the
shoeprint were the only two pieces of evidence that linked Kevin to the
crime in the original trial. Recently a Sherrif who worked on the
case was found guilty of stealing over 500 guns from police lockers
during his tenure.
- There are a number of discrepancies between the police reports,
arrest warrant, and evidence claims. An example of this is a
handrolled cigarette butt that appears sporadically in these
reports. Another is a manufactured cigarette that the state
claims was found in the victims' car, yet which is clearly not there in
the original crime scene photographs. Because Kevin occupied a
house in the surrounding area of the victims' house and was a smoker at
the time, the police had access to cigarette butts that they could
claim were found on the victims' property.
- Despite the Attorney General's allegations, much new information
has come to light since the stay of execution that further points to
Kevin Cooper's innocence. The testing of evidence, however, has
come back inconclusive --- these tests do not implicate Cooper, but
have not conclusively exonerated him.
- Only 8 out of the hundreds of blond hairs were tested, some match
the victims and some are not human hair. While these tests were
being done, blood reference samples from Kevin Cooper were sent
to the lab for comparison. Not suprisingly, the blond hairs did
not match Cooper. Interestingly, however, when they analyzed the
blood sample on file for Cooper, there were multiple DNA profiles,
which should not have occurred. No explanation was provided for
this by the state.
- The blood drop is currently being tested for EDTA, a preservative
that Cooper's attorneys hoped to find to show the possibility of
evidence tampering. These test results are inconclusive,
partially due to a number of errors by the prosecution, and further
tests need to be done.
- Here are just a few samples of the positive information that has
been discovered since the stay:
- Many new witnesses have come forth and testified to the fact
that on the night of the murders, three white men were in a bar near
the victims' home, with blood on them and one wearing a light colored
t-shirt. One of these new witnesses was approached before
testifying at recent hearings by what was assumed to be a policeman in
an unmarked car, telling him that it was "not in his best interest to
speak about the Kevin Cooper case."
- The former warden of the prison that Cooper had escaped from
testified at the hearing that the tennis shoes that the state used to
place Cooper at the crime scene were not prison-issued shoes -- they
could have been purchased at retail stores.
- During one of the hearings, Cooper's attorneys discovered a
series of police logs. Within those logs was a June 5th, 1983
report that said that a woman reported finding a blue shirt, possibly
with blood on it, very close to the bar where the three white men were
seen. A police officer picked up the evidence, but [it] was never
introduced in the case and Cooper's defense team was never made aware
of its existence. Interestingly, one of the witnesses from the
bar on the night of the murders stated that one of the three white men
was possibly wearing a blue shirt.
- Two cigarette butts that were said to be found within the
victims' stolen car were identified as containing Cooper's DNA when the
state tested them in 2001. At the time of the original trial in
1984, one of the butts was listed as measuring 4 millimeters in
length. When the sa[m]e butt was measured in 2001 it was 7.7
millimeters in length. In addition, at the original trial the
butt had to be taken apart for testing. In 2001 it had returned to its
original shape. The second cigarette butt was listed as yellow at
the time of the original trial, but in 2001 [it] was white.
Unfortunately, the criminal justice
system rarely corrects its own problems. We can. Putting a stop
to this injustice, and all of the flaws in the death penalty that it
represents, will take a movement of concerned community members,
students, and activists.
For more information about fighting
against this injustice, and to read essays written by Kevin Cooper,
. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-333-7966.
or leave comments in the Pagesincolor.com blog.
2860 Porter st #414
Soquel, CA 95073 USA