In Saturday’s edition of the New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof called on California Governor Jerry Brown to order further investigation into the case of Kevin Cooper, a man who has been on death row since 1985 but may be innocent.
As Kristof detailed in his op-ed, Cooper was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1983 deaths of Doug and Penny Ryen as well as their 10-year-old daughter and 11-year-old neighbor and the attempted murder of the Ryens’ young son. During the investigation, there was sufficient evidence to suggest that the murders were committed by someone other than Cooper. The surviving victim told investigators that there were several attackers and that they were white; Cooper is black. There was also other physical evidence as well as statements from additional witnesses which supported Cooper’s claims of innocence.
In the years since Cooper was sentenced, there’s been mounting criticism around the legitimacy of his conviction. Nearly a dozen federal judges and other legal experts have voiced skepticism around the handling of the case. And while there’s been some DNA testing, it was incomplete and questions have been raised about police mishandling of the evidence that was tested.
Members of the Innocence Network—Including the Northern California Innocence Project, the California Innocence Project, the Loyola Project for the Innocent and the Innocence Project—have called on Governor Brown to issue Cooper a reprieve so that further investigation into Cooper’s case can be conducted.
In their 2016 letter supporting an American Bar Association letter also urging further investigation into the case, the Innocence Network projects wrote that Cooper’s attorneys have “uncovered facts pointing to the possibility that law enforcement mishandled key items of evidence. . .” The new information, wrote the projects, warrants new DNA testing and review of all of the prior lab reports.
Norman Hile, one of Cooper’s attorneys, said in Saturday’s New York Times: “We’re not saying let Kevin out of jail now, we’re not saying pardon him. . . . We’re saying, let’s find out if he’s innocent.”
In conclusion, Kristof pointedly asked the executive head of the State of California, “Governor Brown, will you act?”
Related: Judge Jed Rakoff: ‘Will the Death Penalty Ever Die?’