SACRAMENTO (AP) — California prosecutors on Monday opposed new DNA testing in an infamous 35-year-old murder case, saying previous tests showed the right man is on death row.
San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos asked Gov. Jerry Brown to deny Kevin Cooper’s clemency petition, though his attorney said he was framed by investigators.
Cooper, 60, is awaiting execution for the 1983 Chino Hills hatchet and knife killings of four people. He escaped from a nearby prison east of Los Angeles two days before the slayings of Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and 11-year-old neighbor Christopher Hughes.
Ramos said his office agreed to new testing in 2001 and 2002 of material selected in part by Cooper’s own DNA expert. That testing showed Cooper was in the home at the time of the murders, smoked cigarettes in the Ryen’s station wagon after he stole it and his blood and the blood of at least one victim was on a t-shirt found by the side of a road leading away from the murders, Ramos said.
Cooper’s scheduled execution in 2004 was stayed when a federal appellate court in San Francisco called for further review of scientific evidence that Ramos said led another judge to determine that “Cooper alone was responsible for these terrible murders.”
A San Diego judge in 2011 blocked Cooper’s request for a third round of DNA testing.
“The families of the victims and the surviving victim have waited patiently for 35 years for justice in this case,” Ramos said in a statement. “They have endured not only the loss of their loved ones, but also the repeated and false claims from Cooper and his propaganda machine designed to undermine public confidence in the just verdict.”
Interest was renewed by a column last week by New York Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristof suggesting Cooper was framed. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, who previously was the state’s attorney general, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Treasurer John Chiang are among those supporting new DNA tests.
Cooper’s clemency request is being reviewed by Brown’s office, which will determine if new DNA tests are appropriate, spokesman Evan Westrup said.
California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006.
Cooper’s attorney, Norman Hile, said more sensitive DNA testing would prove Cooper’s innocence and that the 2004 testing showed his client was framed. It showed the blood sample contained a preservative and also was contaminated with someone else’s blood, he said.
More sensitive DNA testing available today would also be able to show who wore the bloody t-shirt, Hile said. He said Cooper’s blood was planted on the t-shirt worn by one of the real killers.
Ramos also said more sensitive testing of the hatchet, the hatchet sheath, the t-shirt and a prison button found in Cooper’s alleged hideout would be useless because they have been touched by others over the years.
Hile said the button was the wrong color and also was planted by investigators. Law enforcement is to blame if the evidence was contaminated by others over the years, he said, though he said the hatchet handle was given a protective cover that should have preserved any DNA.
“If there are tests that could be done and we will pay for them, why shouldn’t they be done before somebody is executed?” Hile said.