Until a few days ago, I had never heard of Kevin Cooper, who has been on California’s death row for more than 30 years, after being convicted of a quadruple homicide in 2003 that he apparently did not commit.
Not until I read Nicholas Kristof’s article in the May 20 New York Times, entitled “Was Kevin Cooper Framed for Murder?”
Kristof, whose opinion pieces typically concern international human rights abuses, lays out a convincing case that Cooper was, in fact, framed.
The usual elements of a miscarriage of justice are all there.
First, there is a horrific, blood-spattered crime –a couple and their 10 year old daughter stabbed to death in their own home, along with an 11-year old friend, each with dozens of wounds– creating intense pressure on police to finger a culprit.
The sole survivor was their 8-year-old son, whose throat was slashed and skull fractured, but he was able to convey through nonverbal yes-no responses that there were multiple attackers and they were white.
A woman whose boyfriend was a convicted murderer recently released from prison shared with police her suspicion that he was involved, gave them a pair of his blood-drenched coveralls and told them a hatchet—similar to what appeared to have been used in the killings—was missing.
Kristof relates how that and other evidence was shunted aside–a deputy sheriff later admitted he tossed the coveralls into a dumpster–as police chose to focus on Cooper, a convenient black suspect who had just escaped from a minimum security prison where he was serving time for burglary and had been holed up in an empty house near the scene of the slayings.
Police might have planted or manufactured evidence. Initial searches of two key locations turned up nothing to connect Cooper to the murders. But a second try in both places did—a hatchet sheath, cigarette butts and a bloody button from a prison uniform that was later found not to match Cooper’s attire.
There was also the matter of a shirt used in the crime that was found by DNA testing to have Cooper’s blood on it. But that blood had traces of a chemical preservative, suggesting it was added from a test tube of Cooper’s blood rather than because he bled on it while wearing it.
There is more, much more, in Kristof’s piece.
Not surprisingly, many now believe Cooper might be innocent. They include a federal appellate judge who dissented from the 9th Circuit’s rejection of Cooper’s appeal, the deans of four law schools, the president of the American Bar Association and five of the original jurors.
They want new, more sensitive DNA testing that could clear Cooper. Kamala Harris, now a U.S. Senator, did not support it when she was California Attorney General, but now she does, in the wake of Kristof’s article.
It is up to Governor Jerry Brown to allow the testing or grant the clemency petition now before him.
If you are as troubled by what happened as I am, if you care about justice, please contact Brown via this link.