A tweet by Kim Kardashian this past Sunday may mean new hope for California death row inmate Kevin Cooper. Cooper has been on death row since he was convicted in 1985 of a quadruple murder of a family in the Chino Hills suburb of Los Angeles.
The crime scene was bloody and brutal. Law enforcement insists that Cooper killed Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica, and 10-year-old Chris Hughes, who was staying with the family the night of the murders. There was one survivor, a then-8-year-old Josh Ryen, who had his throat cut and was left for dead.
Cooper had escaped from a minimum-security prison and was hiding out at a nearby residence at the time of the murder, and police focused their attention on him as the chief suspect in the case. When he was finally arrested, police claimed that evidence — including a bloody footprint, a drop of blood and a piece of cigarette paper — tied him to the crime scene.
However, after Josh Ryen recovered from his injuries, he stated that it was three white or Hispanic men who attacked and killed his family and that Cooper was not involved.
In 2016, Copper received national attention after the date of his execution was once again scheduled, despite five federal judges issuing a blistering 103-page dissent on his last appeal.
The judges stated, “There is no way to say this politely. The district court failed to provide Cooper a fair hearing. The district court impeded and obstructed Cooper’s attorneys at every turn. [T]he court imposed unreasonable conditions, refused discovery that should have been available as a matter of course; limited testimony that should not have been limited; and found facts unreasonably, based on a truncated and distorted record. Public confidence in the proper administration of the death penalty depends on the integrity of the process followed by the state. … So far as due process is concerned, twenty-four years of flawed proceedings are as good as no proceedings at all.”
The judges found that the prosecution and the Sheriff’s office destroyed, tampered with and hid from the defense significant evidence that the jury never heard. Finally, in a damning statement, the judges wrote, “The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man.”
Now Kim Kardashian has asked via Twitter:
Governor Brown, please add Kevin Cooper to your legacy of smart, fair and thoughtful criminal justice reforms. https://t.co/OzhZIWdxWL
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) October 7, 2018
The reality TV star and wife of rapper Kanye West was successful this summer in appealing to President Donald Trump to commute the sentence of Alice Johnson, a Black grandmother who had served 21 years of a life sentence after being convicted on drug possession charges. But whether she can help a Black man convicted of murdering a White family in a case involving an alleged police cover-up remains to be seen.
These facts about Cooper’s case are listed on a defense website, savekevincooper.org, and are as follows:
- The coroner who investigated the Ryen murders concluded that the crime took four minutes at most and that the murder weapons were a hatchet, a long knife, an ice pick and perhaps a second knife. How could a single person, in four or fewer minutes, wield three or four weapons, and inflict more than 140 wounds on five people, two of whom were adults — including a 200-pound ex-marine — who had loaded weapons near their bedsides?
- Two days after the crimes were discovered, the sheriff’s department issued a “criminal bulletin” stating the suspects were “three . . . White or Mexican males,” one wearing a “blue short-sleeve shirt.” In 2004, the defense uncovered that the day after the murders a sheriff’s deputy recovered a blue shirt with blood on it near the scene of the crimes. The prosecution never disclosed the blue shirt to the defense, and it is now “missing.”
- A woman identified as a girlfriend of one of the possible murderers alerted the sheriff’s department that her boyfriend, a convicted murderer, left blood-spattered coveralls at her home the night of the murders. She also reported that her boyfriend owned a hatchet matching the one recovered near the scene of the crime, which she noted was missing in the days following the murders. It never reappeared. Furthermore, her sister saw the boyfriend in a vehicle that could have been the Ryens’ car on the night of the murders.
- The sheriff’s deputy who destroyed the bloody coveralls lied at trial when he testified that he acted on his own in destroying them. In 1998, more than 13 years after the trial, the defense uncovered a sheriff’s office “disposition report” that showed that the deputy’s supervisor had in fact approved the destruction of the coveralls. That report was never turned over to the defense, and the jury thus never knew that the testimony they heard from the deputy was false.