Kevin Cooper, 60, is awaiting execution for the 1983 Chino Hills hatchet and knife killings of four people.

published on July 16, 2018 - 3:27 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

State Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) has weighed in on the plight of a man sitting on California’s death row, asking Gov. Jerry Brown to allow DNA testing that may exonerate the inmate.

Kevin 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.

Cooper’s attorney said he was framed by investigators.

In a letter to Gov. Brown, Sen. Vidak said “I support Mr. Cooper’s request to Governor Brown for new DNA testing in his case. I believe that if new tests can either confirm his guilt or prove his innocence, then Mr. Cooper and the victims’ families deserve the opportunity for more advanced testing to provide clarity as to whether or not he committed these horrible crimes.”

San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike 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 to the Associated Press. “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 in May 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.

Vidak said as long as there is no cost incurred by taxpayers, that DNA testing should be used to help exonerate people who may be innocent.

“I don’t believe the County or State should be forced to pay for this DNA testing, and since Mr. Cooper’s defense attorneys have indicated that they will incur those costs themselves, I see no reason to delay or prevent the testing from taking place as soon as possible — especially considering that a man’s life is at stake. Going forward, I will continue to support the testing of DNA evidence where it exists in cases when a convicted person maintains their innocence.”

California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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