Mary Ann Hughes holds a photo of her late son, Christopher, Friday, Jan. 30, 2004, in her home in Chino Hills, Calif. Kevin Cooper was convicted in the 1983 murders of Douglas and Peggy Ryen, both 41, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and her 11-year-old friend, Christopher Hughes.
A young Josh Ryen
Family photos of Doug and Peggy Ryen with their daughter Jessica, 10, and son Joshua, then 8-years-old. Joshua was the only survivor of the 1983 incident.
Kevin Cooper listens during his preliminary hearing in Ontario in November 1983 and listens with closed eyes as a judge in San Diego sentenced him to death on May 15, 1985.
Facts of the Crime:
In June 1983 in Chino Hills, Douglas and Peggy Ryen and their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, were killed in the master bedroom of their home. Christopher Hughes, 11, a neighbor, was also killed. Joshua Ryen survived despite serious wounds. Kevin Cooper, who escaped from Chino prison on June 2, was arrested 47 days later and was convicted for the murders in 1985 and faced execution.
Cooper claimed he was innocent and called for DNA testing of the evidence in 2000. In 2003, an execution date of February 10, 2004, was set for Cooper. In 2005, a federal judge upheld his death penalty.
Cooper was sentenced to death in San Bernardino County on May 15, 1985.
Calling the evidence of his guilt "overwhelming," a federal appeals court in San Francisco on Tuesday upheld the death sentence of Kevin Cooper, who was convicted of a rampage 25 years ago that left a Chino Hills couple and two children dead.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments from Cooper's appellate lawyers that he was framed and that prosecutors withheld evidence that could have cleared him.
The ruling upheld a decision by U.S. District Judge Marilyn L. Huff in San Diego, who considered new blood and hair evidence tests ordered in the case after the 9th Circuit in 2004 granted a last-minute stay of execution.
Huff wrote that she was convinced that Cooper "is the one responsible for these brutal murders," noting post-conviction DNA testing that linked Cooper to a drop of blood in the hallway outside the bedroom of two of the murder victims, to saliva from cigarette butts found in the hallway and to blood smears on a T-shirt found outside a bar near the murder scene.
The 9th Circuit, in a 3-0 ruling written by Judge Pamela A. Rymer, agreed.
"As the district court, and all state courts, have repeatedly found, evidence of Cooper's guilt was overwhelming," the decision said.
Judges Ronald M. Gould and M. Margaret McKeown concurred in the decision.
But McKeown, in a separate, concurring opinion, expressed her dismay that the court, because of limits on habeas petitions imposed by Congress in 1996, could not examine the "integrity of the evidence".
"Significant evidence bearing on Cooper's culpability has been lost, destroyed or left un-pursued, including, for example, blood-covered overalls belonging to a potential suspect who was a convicted murderer, and a bloody T-shirt, discovered alongside the road near the crime scene," McKeown wrote.
McKeown noted that the criminalist in charge of the evidence was a heroin addict who was fired for stealing drugs seized by police.
The judge said she was "troubled that we cannot, in Kevin Cooper's words, resolve the question of his guilt 'once and for all.' "
According to evidence presented at trial, Cooper had faked a medical condition in 1983 to escape from the Chino state prison, where he was serving a sentence for burglary.
He broke into the home of Douglas and Peggy Ryen and used a hatchet, knife and ice pick to kill the couple, their daughter Jessica, 11, and houseguest Christopher Hughes, also 11.
Prosecutors also presented evidence that Cooper slashed the throat of the Ryens' 8-year-old son, Joshua, who lay next to his mother's body for 11 hours before he was found.
He survived and testified against Cooper.
Cooper, now 50, admits that after he escaped from prison he hid in a house near the Ryens' residence. But he has maintained that he hitchhiked out of the area and was not involved in the murders.
He was arrested seven weeks after the killings.
The Chino Hills killings received so much publicity in San Bernardino County that Cooper's trial was moved to San Diego County.
In 1985, he was convicted of the murders and sentenced to death.
Tuesday's ruling was the latest of many appellate decisions in the case.
Sacramento attorney Norman C. Hile said he was disappointed and would seek another hearing before a larger panel of judges.
He had argued that Huff erred in not ordering further testing and in declining to consider evidence about "three suspicious men," one wearing bloody clothes, who reportedly were seen shortly after the murders in a bar not far from the crime scene.
But Ronald S. Mathias, California's senior assistant attorney general in charge of death penalty appeals, said the court made the right decision.
Mathias said he was particularly pleased with "the court's acknowledgment that" evidence of Cooper's guilt "was 'overwhelming.' I think that addresses any concern that technicalities" of the 1996 law "affected the outcome of this case."
Death row inmate Kevin Cooper has asked a federal appeals court to give him another chance to argue his innocence.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last month denied Cooper's appeal of his 1985 murder conviction. Cooper now claims the panel's decision was wrong, and he wants a larger panel of judges from the court to rehear his arguments and reconsider the ruling.
The court has not yet said whether it will grant the rehearing. It has, however, ordered state prosecutors to file a response to the request by the end of next week.
Cooper remains on death row for the killings of Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their daughter, Jessica, 10, and houseguest, Christopher Hughes, 11.
The four were attacked as they slept in the Ryens' Chino Hills home in 1983, just days after Cooper escaped from the nearby California Institution for Men.
The Ryens' 9-year-old son, Joshua, survived a slashed throat.
A jury convicted Cooper of the murders and recommended he receive the death penalty.
His appeals, however, have lasted more than two decades, during which he has denied the killings and claimed corrupt police and prosecutors framed him.
Despite problems with evidence in his case, the courts have repeatedly upheld his conviction, most recently last month when the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit unanimously rejected his arguments.
Two of the judges, Pamela Ann Rymer and Ronald M. Gould, said the evidence against him was overwhelming.
The third judge, Margaret McKeown, ruled against him on procedural grounds, despite citing deep concerns over "evidentiary gaps, mishandling of evidence and suspicious circumstances" surrounding his guilt.
Cooper's attorneys seized on McKeown's opinion in asking for the rehearing.
"In light of Judge McKeown's condemnation of the prosecution's repeated mishandling and destruction of evidence, Mr. Cooper submits he cannot be executed without violating the U.S. Constitution," the attorneys wrote in their request for a rehearing.
On a Web site maintained by his supporters, Cooper calls the three-judge panel's ruling "a disappointment," but said it was "not unexpected."
He said Rymer and Gould have consistently ruled against him for the past eight years.
He goes on to express frustration that his conviction is allowed to stand despite McKeown's findings, and he vowed to maintain his appeals for as long as he can.
"I want for you to know that I will continue this fight as long as I live, and I truly hope that you will continue fighting with me!" he wrote to his supporters.
May 11, 2009
California death row inmate narrowly loses new hearing
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A California inmate has narrowly missed getting a new hearing to reconsider his death penalty conviction.
At least 11 judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote Monday that they would reconsider the case of Kevin Cooper, who was convicted of the 1983 hacking deaths of four Chino Hills residents. Cooper needed the votes of 14 of the court's 27 judges to get a new hearing.
His last avenue of appeal is now the U.S. Supreme Court.
A three-judge appeals panel earlier ruled that Cooper's guilt was overwhelming despite claims that investigators framed him.
Before that, a trial court had agreed to consider Cooper's claims to innocence and halted his 2004 execution the day before he was to receive a lethal injection. That court later upheld his death penalty.
Attorney General's Office blasts Kevin Cooper's innocence claims in petition response
The state Attorney General's Office responded this week to Death Row inmate Kevin Cooper's petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, and urged the court to deny Cooper's September request for intervention in his decades-old case.
In their opposition filing, state attorneys detail evidence pointing to Cooper's guilt in the 1983 slaying of four people in Chino Hills, and assail Cooper's claim that he's had in insufficient opportunity to review evidence he claims will prove his innocence.
"(Cooper's) inability to prove his innocence stems from the fact that he is so plainly guilty," state attorneys write. "Further review of (Cooper's) highly fact-bound case is unwarranted."
Following numerous unsuccessful appeals, Cooper was scheduled to be executed in 2004. But on the day of the scheduled execution, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay to allow Cooper an opportunity to conduct forensic testing on a T-shirt and hair evidence.
Rather than indicate innocence, the testing revealed further evidence of Cooper's guilt, state attorneys wrote in their opposition filing, which was submitted Tuesday to the Supreme Court.
"The agreed-upon post-conviction DNA testing conducted to allow (Cooper) to prove his innocence only further inculpated him and confirmed the overwhelming evidence of his guilt presented in his state-court trial," state attorneys write.
In his September petition, Cooper asked the Supreme Court to order lower courts to allow Cooper to conduct additional testing on evidence in his case.
Cooper was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1985 for the brutal killings of Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica, and 11-year-old houseguest Christopher Hughes.
Cooper escaped from the California Institute for Men in Chino in the days before the incident, and admitted that he hid after his escape in a home adjacent to the Ryens' property.
Investigators uncovered evidence linking Cooper to the crime in the Ryens' home, in the house where Cooper was hiding, and in a car that was stolen from the Ryens' home and later abandoned in Long Beach, state attorneys wrote in their opposition filing.
"Whatever standard might be applied, there is no credible evidence that anyone other than (Cooper)" committed the killings, wrote state attorneys.
Attorneys for Cooper will reply to the state's opposition filing next week. The Supreme Court may make a decision by the end of November about whether they will hear the case, said Norman Hile, one of Cooper's attorneys.
Hile declined to respond to the state's opposition filing during an interview Wednesday, saying he first wanted to spend more time reviewing the document.
He also declined to discuss what future legal measures Cooper's attorneys may take if the Supreme Court declines to hear Cooper's case.
But even if Cooper's appeals are exhausted, an execution date cannot be set until California finds an execution method it deems humane.
Executions of Death Row inmates have been on hold in the state since 2006 because of concerns that lethal injection may constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
In his September petition, Cooper claimed that three white men were responsible for the killings. Witnesses described three white men leaving the scene, and later saw three white men arrive at a nearby bar, according to Cooper's petition.
Cooper has alleged that investigators may have planted evidence against him to secure a conviction and thwart attempts to prove his claims of innocence.
Experts: Success unlikely in Kevin Cooper's bid to Supreme Court
Like all petitioners to the U.S. Supreme Court, Death Row inmate Kevin Cooper has a very slim chance of the court hearing his decades-old murder case, according to legal experts.
And after reviewing the facts of Cooper's case, two law professors say Cooper's odds for success may be worse than the average petitioner - and the Supreme Court grants fewer than 1 percent of petitions.
"They're all longshots, and his might be more of a longshot than others," said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "That's not saying he hasn't got anything going for him, but you have to be the needle in the haystack."
The Supreme Court is set to decide on Tuesday whether to hear Cooper's case. Their decision is expected to be announced Nov. 30.
Cooper, now 51, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1985 for the brutal killings in Chino Hills of a married couple, their daughter, and a houseguest.
In June 1983, Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their daughter Jessica, 10, and Christopher Hughes, 11, were attacked with a hatchet, a knife and a weapon similar to an ice pick. The victims each suffered at least 20 wounds during the attack.
Cooper has long maintained his innocence, and his attorneys argue in their petition to the Supreme Court that he should have an additional opportunity to review evidence in his case.
Reviews by lower courts in Cooper's case have been unfair, the attorneys argue, because lower courts have required too high a standard when considering Cooper's innocence claims.
Cooper is urging the Supreme Court to hear his case to provide guidance to lower courts about what standard of review applies when considering an inmate's innocence.
In its response to Cooper's petition, the state Attorney General's Office "seems to do a good job in dispelling the notion that there is a reason the court should grant certiorari (review) in this case," said Barry McDonald, a law professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu.
"It seems to me that the state has a better case, that there's really not a definite circuit split for the court to resolve, so I think it's unlikely that they'll grant it," McDonald said.
The Supreme Court typically seeks cases that will allow it to clarify unsettled areas of the law that lower courts have failed to interpret consistently, according to legal experts.
"They don't see their role as just correcting mistakes in lower courts, even in death penalty cases," said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law. "They really see their role as providing clarity for the law across the country."
The court generally avoids cases where it's asked to review evidence and make a ruling based partly on its views about a petitioner's guilt or innocence - and those issues are central in Cooper's petition, McDonald said.
"The issues are that the state botched or mishandled or in some way tainted the evidence below," said McDonald, who stressed that his review of documents in Cooper's petition was cursory. "Those are all kind of factual issues that the Supreme Court doesn't get involved in."
Levenson said Cooper's chance for success may also be harmed by the brutal facts of his case.
"The bottom line is that this guy's alleged to have committed a very horrific crime," she said. "... It's one of those situations where I don't know whether he'll have any natural sympathies."
Levenson said she believed the court wants to clarify what standard of review applies in cases where inmates claim actual innocence, but she believes Cooper's case might not be the case the court wants to use to clarify that area of the law.
"It's always a longshot, getting to the Supreme Court," Levenson said. "Death penalty cases get more attention than others, but it certainly doesn't make it any type of guarantee that his petition would be granted.
"And in fact, given some of the facts of the case, including his access to additional DNA tests and frankly the inconclusive results of the earlier tests, it makes it tough for him to get further review."
When the Supreme Court meets for a conference Tuesday to consider whether to grant Cooper's petition, they will be reviewing "a batch" of cases and only singling out some of them for discussion, McDonald said.
It's possible that Cooper's petition could be denied without being discussed, McDonald said.
Four of the nine Supreme Court justices must vote in favor of a petition for it to be granted. If Cooper's petition is granted, his case will likely be heard by the Supreme Court in March or April, Chemerinsky said.
And if the Supreme Court denies Cooper's petition, Cooper will likely have further legal avenues to pursue before he is put to death, Levenson said.
There is currently a moratorium in place for executions in California due to concerns about the state's method of administering legal injections.
Once the state finds a method of execution it deems constitutional, Cooper or other inmates can sue to challenge the legality of the method, potentially further delaying executions, Levenson said.
Cooper can also have his legal team continue to investigate his case to seek evidence supporting his innocence claims, Levenson said.
"I don't think he's going to quit trying just because a lot of legal avenues are now closed," Levenson said.
A shot in the dark
Fewer than 1 percent of petitioners have their cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chart: Year / Petitions filed / Petitions granted (percentage)
Assemblyman Curt Hagman wants a date set for the execution of Death Row inmate Kevin Cooper.
"It is time for the state of California to deliver the justice it promised Cooper's victims and their families in 1983," said Hagman, R-Chino Hills.
Cooper was convicted of killing Chino Hills residents Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 11-year-old neighbor, Christopher Hughes, after escaping from a Chino prison in 1983.
Executions in the state have been on hold since 2006 because the manner was deemed inhumane.
"This whole thing is very ridiculous, that we have to go through so much great length to follow California law when it comes to execution and the expense," Hagman said. "And the complexity of this is frustrating when we think about how much that inmate costs us."
Some organizations, such as the San Francisco-based nonprofit Death Penalty Focus, oppose the death penalty.
"It does not deter crime and, in fact, the death penalty is extremely harmful to victims' families," said Stefanie Faucher, program director, "because it forces them to endure years of constitutionally protected appeals that in no way shortens the process without spending hundreds of millions of dollars more."
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a petition filed by Cooper seeking intervention in the murder case. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's spokeswoman, Rachel Arrezola, said the governor can't set a date for execution. The law requires the Superior Court to set the date.
Doubts remain -- but legal recourse does not -- in Kevin Cooper case
On a Sunday morning in June 1983, Bill Hughes arrived at a hilltop home in Chino Hills, concerned that his young son hadn't returned home in time for church after a sleepover.
Hughes had called from his own home nearby but had gotten no answer. No one stirred when he knocked on the back door. Stepping over to the master bedroom window for a glimpse inside, he was confronted by horrific carnage.
The bloodied bodies of Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and his son, 11-year-old Christopher, lay strewn from bedroom to hallway. Amid the clumps of hair, flesh and bones lay Joshua Ryen, 8, still breathing despite a slashed throat and skull fracture.
San Bernardino County authorities initially blamed the slayings on a cult or gang, as the five victims had 143 stab wounds from three different weapons.
But suspicion soon turned to one man: Kevin Cooper, who had escaped from a state prison not far from the Ryens' home two days before the murders.
Now, after 26 years, the legal hurdles to Cooper's execution have been surmounted. With the Supreme Court's decision last month not to review his claim of innocence, the 52-year-old becomes only the sixth of California's 697 death row prisoners cleared for lethal injection once a federal judge approves revised procedures.
But the exhaustion of Cooper's legal recourse hasn't silenced supporters who claim he was the victim of corrupt law enforcement and stunning bad luck.
The opponents of capital punishment who have long clung to puzzling clues and hints of police misconduct have been joined by a prison warden, 11 federal judges and five jurors now bothered by allegations that Cooper was framed.
"The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man," Judge William A. Fletcher of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in an impassioned dissent from the last review upholding Cooper's conviction. Deputies, he said, "manipulated and planted evidence in order to convict Cooper" and "discounted, disregarded, and discarded evidence pointing to other killers."
Prosecutors call those accusations nonsense, pointing to the dozens of judgments affirming Cooper was the killer.
In the state's filing with the Supreme Court urging denial of Cooper's last petition, Deputy Atty. Gen. Holly Wilkens dismissed the notion of prosecutorial misconduct.
"Instead," she argued, "his inability to prove his innocence stems from the fact that he is so plainly guilty."
As dusk fell on June 2, 1983, a 25-year-old black prisoner sporting braided hair, a brown jacket and the alias of David Trautman slipped out of an unfenced yard at the California Institution for Men at Chino where he had been sent a month earlier on a burglary conviction.
Making his way on foot across four miles of flat land to the bucolic horse country of Chino Hills, the escapee later identified as Cooper holed up in a vacant ranch house at the crest of palm-lined English Place, across a shallow ravine from the Ryen home.
There he plotted an escape to Mexico. He called two former girlfriends to ask for money and a ride to the border. Both turned him down.
According to the prosecution theory that swayed a jury in San Diego, where the trial was moved due to publicity, Cooper left his hide-out around midnight June 4, picking his way across 125 yards to the unlocked Ryen home. Acting alone and wielding a hatchet, a hunting knife and an ice pick, prosecutors said, Cooper savagely hacked up his victims before stealing the family station wagon for his escape to Tijuana. The 1977 Buick was found in Long Beach a week later.
As a massive manhunt for the fugitive ensued, deputies collected evidence placing Cooper at the hide-out house: Butts from hand-rolled cigarettes containing the type of tobacco supplied to inmates, a wool blanket with his semen, a blood-dabbed green button, a leather hatchet sheath and sole prints from prison-issued Pro Keds Dude sneakers. A hatchet smeared with the blood and hair of the victims was found along a nearby road.
Inside the Ryen home, the clues were few but damning -- a bloody shoe print on a sheet in the master bedroom and a single drop of blood on a wall in the hallway.
A day after the murders, authorities learned of Cooper's prison escape and that he wasn't just a burglar. He had fled a Pennsylvania psychiatric facility and was wanted in the rape and kidnapping of a teenage girl. Dist. Atty. Dennis Kottmeier filed murder charges against Cooper four days after the killings.
Cooper was arrested near Santa Cruz Island after seven weeks on the lam, spent first in Mexico and then as a crew member on a sailboat cruising the Baja and Southern California coasts. He was nabbed by police investigating reports of a rape at knifepoint aboard another vessel.
During his five-month trial, jurors heard from 140 witnesses. It took them five days and 15 votes to agree on a guilty finding.
After dozens of appeals, petitions and complaints failed to overturn the verdict, Cooper's execution was set for Feb. 10, 2004.
Doubts pile up
Contradictions to the sole-killer theory emerged as swiftly as the scenario took hold.
Josh Ryen, taken by helicopter to Loma Linda University Medical Center, told Deputy Erwin Sharp through a hand-squeezing code suggested by the lawman that three white men were in his home during the attack. On June 15, as he recuperated and played a game of Uno with Reserve Sheriff's Deputy Luis Simo, a wanted poster depicting Cooper flashed on the television screen. Simo testified that Josh told him "that was not the guy who did it."
Four days after the murders, a woman named Diana Roper summoned a sheriff's deputy and turned over a pair of bloody coveralls she said her ex-boyfriend, a convicted contract killer named Lee Furrow, had left at her home in Mentone the night of the murders. Roper had seen Furrow earlier that night wearing a tan Fruit of the Loom T-shirt she'd bought for him. He wasn't wearing the T-shirt when he was dropped off by a car, shed the coveralls and took off on his motorcycle, Roper said in a sworn statement.
Roper's account was dismissed by prosecutors as the unreliable word of "a scorned woman," and police destroyed the coveralls before Cooper's defense ever learned of their existence.
A tan T-shirt identical to the one Roper described was found about a mile from the crime scene, stained with blood. A blue T-shirt with bloodstains was also found nearby and turned in to police. Neither was introduced at trial; the blue shirt disappeared altogether from the Sheriff's Department's records.
The dot of blood found in the Ryens' hallway was identified as coming from a black male. It was consumed in the initial testing, criminalist Daniel J. Gregonis said at trial. But more of it appeared 15 years later for DNA testing that would prove useful to the prosecution.
The shoe print on the bed sheet wasn't spotted by analysts until the bedding had been in the crime lab for weeks, and after investigators had obtained a size 9 Pro Keds Dude shoe from the prison.
The button found in the hide-out house came from a green prison-issue jacket, not the brown version Cooper was wearing when he escaped.
"Fingerprint evidence strongly suggests that the hatchet sheath was planted in the bedroom soon after the hatchet was discovered," Fletcher wrote in his 101-page dissent detailing concerns he had with nine key pieces of evidence used to convict Cooper.
In the Ryens' kitchen, an intruder lingered long enough to grab a beer from the refrigerator, leaving bloody smudges and tossing the empty can in the yard. Yet Peggy Ryen's purse and cash sitting in plain view on the kitchen counter weren't touched.
Fourteen years after the murders, when a reporter who covered Cooper's trial ran into former Sheriff's Deputy Albert Anthony Ruiz at a San Diego auto shop, he told her that the killings were a drug deal gone bad and that the people sent to exact revenge "hit the wrong family on that hill."
More than a year after Cooper's conviction in 1985, William W. Baird, the San Bernardino County crime lab manager who had testified about the bloody shoe print, was fired for stealing drugs from the evidence locker.
Fighting the verdict
On the eve of his scheduled Feb. 10, 2004, execution, Cooper won a reprieve from the 9th Circuit on a technicality: Prosecutors had failed to inform the defense that the Chino prison warden, Midge Carroll, had notified them of erroneous trial testimony that the Pro Keds Dude sneakers were only available to prisons.
Five of Cooper's jurors also had developed doubts by then. They sent letters to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a month before the execution date. Why, one asked, did Josh Ryen not recognize Cooper as his assailant? Why were there no fingerprints found, why only a single drop of blood that could have been Cooper's? Why wasn't the empty beer can tested for saliva?
"I am angry that the hair has not been tested," another juror wrote, referring to pale hairs found clutched in Jessica Ryen's rigid hands. "I am angered to learn that the officer who testified about the footprints was caught stealing drugs from the evidence locker. . . . I am bothered to know that a convicted murderer [Furrow] who years before had dismembered his female victim was near the scene at the time, that his hatchet was missing and that his girlfriend called police and turned in his bloody coveralls."
The 9th Circuit ordered an evidentiary hearing and DNA testing of the hairs that had clearly not come from Cooper. The appeals court also approved the defense's request that the tan T-shirt be tested for evidence that Cooper's blood had been planted on it.
High concentrations of the preservative EDTA were found in the T-shirt stains identified as Cooper's blood but not in those identified as Doug Ryen's, suggesting, the defense claimed, that Cooper's blood came from the vial drawn by police and treated with the preservative, not from a cut sustained during the killings. The few hairs tested were said to be from the victims.
The federal judge overseeing the hearing, Marilyn Huff, hewed faithfully to restrictions imposed by a 1996 act of Congress to speed up death-penalty appeals. Noting that the evidence disputes had been dismissed by Cooper's trial jury, she upheld his death sentence in May 2005.
In the 9th Circuit's May 11 decision upholding Huff's ruling, Judge Pamela A. Rymer, writing for a narrow majority, rejected Fletcher's criticism, saying his dissent "improperly marshals the facts in the light most favorable to Kevin Cooper."
With two words on Nov. 30, the Supreme Court put an end to the legal odyssey that has extended through half of Cooper's life: Petition Denied.
On June 2, 1983, Kevin Cooper escaped from the California Institution for Men at Chino where he was serving time for burglary. Making his way to a vacant Chino Hills home, he hid there and plotted his escape. Feeling the need to run away from the immediate area, Cooper made the fateful decision to break into a nearby home. On June 4, he savagely murdered Chino Hills residents Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 11-year-old neighbor Christopher Hughes. He also left 8-year-old Josh Ryen for dead. Then Cooper stole the family's station wagon for his escape to Mexico.
After a massive seven-week manhunt by law enforcement, Cooper was finally arrested. In 1985, Cooper was found guilty of the four murders and was sentenced to death. He has pursued numerous appeals and made claims of a frame-up. Time and time again, his appeals were found to be without merit and consequently rejected. In 2004, Cooper claimed that DNA tests would prove his innocence. Instead, they conclusively placed him in the Ryen home.
Cooper was scheduled to be executed on Feb. 10, 2004, 21 years after the brutal murders. However, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals gave Cooper a reprieve on a technicality. After more legal maneuvers, the U.S. Supreme Court, 26 years after the murders, gave the last word and denied Cooper's petition for another appeal.
Or was it the last word? Cooper's execution date still has not been scheduled, and there is no indication that it will be anytime soon. He is a death row inmate who has been incarcerated for nearly three decades, from the time when Jerry Brown was still governor.
Cooper has been allowed to enjoy almost 27 more years of life by the courts, which is 27 years more than his victims were allowed to live.
With murderers like Cooper spending decades on death row, the inexplicable delay of justice is adding more anguish to the victims' families and eroding the effectiveness of our strong public safety laws. This is unacceptable. California's death penalty process must be expedited, and we must start by setting an execution date for Kevin Cooper.
Cooper has shown no remorse, and with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger affirming the death penalty as a necessary and effective deterrent, it is time for Cooper to receive the punishment reserved for the worst killers. As the Assembly member for the 60th District, I have called on the governor to set an execution date for Cooper to bring closure to this extremely tragic case. Our community demands justice, and I am confident that the governor will reach the same conclusion and enforce the law.
Since his initial conviction, Kevin Cooper has received the due process he was entitled to. Now it is time for the state of California to deliver the justice it promised his victims and their families. Anything less would deepen the pain of the families and make a mockery of our justice system.
SB County prosecutors target Kevin Cooper for execution date
An execution date of Sept. 29 was set in court today for Albert Greenwood Brown, who kidnapped, raped and murdered a 15-year-old Riverside girl walking to high school in 1980.
San Bernardino County prosecutors have also targeted a condemned inmate, Kevin Cooper, for an execution date.
Prosecutors said all of Brown's court appeals have been exhausted, and a protocol is now in place for executions to resume in California. Brown's emergency stay plea to the state Supreme Court was denied Friday.
Brown's case is one of six throughout the state for which prosecutors will soon seek execution dates, Chief Assistant District Attorney Bill Mitchell said today in court.
In San Bernardino County, prosecutors are working with the state attorney general's office for a court hearing to set an execution date for Kevin Cooper, who was sentenced to death in 1985 in one of the Inland area's most notorious murder cases.
His victims include two children and two adults who were killed with a hatchet and a knife inside a Chino Hills ranch home in 1983. Cooper has maintained his innocence and recently filed another appeal in state court in San Diego.