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Kevin COOPER

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "The Chino Hills murderer"
 
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: June 4, 1983
Date of arrest: July 30, 1983
Date of birth: 1957
Victims profile: Franklin Douglas Ryen and Ryen's wife, Peggy, both 41, their daughter, Jessica, 10, and their young houseguest, Christopher Hughes, 11
Method of murder: Hitting with a hatchet - Stabbing with knife
Location: San Bernardino County, California, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on May 15, 1985
 
 

 
 

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United States Court of Appeals
For the Ninth Circuit

 

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Kevin Cooper (born 1958) is a death row inmate currently held in California's San Quentin Prison. Cooper was convicted of four murders that occurred in the Chino Hills area of California in 1983. Since his imprisonment, Cooper, who is African American, has become active in writing letters from prison decrying the judicial establishment as racist, protesting his innocence, and against the death penalty in general.

His habeas corpus petitions have been denied, however, with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stating that "As the district court, and all state courts, have repeatedly found, evidence of Cooper's guilt was overwhelming. The tests that he asked for to show his innocence 'once and for all' show nothing of the sort."

In a dissenting opinion, Judge William A. Fletcher argued that the police may have tampered with the evidence and that the Ninth Circuit should have reheard the case en banc and "ordered the [federal] district judge to give Cooper the fair hearing he has never had."

Previous criminal record

On October 8, 1982, Cooper burglarized a Pennsylvania home and kidnapped and raped the high school student who interrupted him. He was convicted of two other burglaries in Los Angeles and began serving his sentence at the California Institution for Men (CIM) in Chino on April 29, 1983, under the alias David Trautman. On June 1, he was transferred to the minimum-security portion of the prison and escaped on foot the next day.

Chino Hills murders and arrest

On the morning of June 5, 1983, Bill Hughes arrived at a semi-rural home in Chino Hills, California where his 11-year-old son Christopher had spent the night. Inside, he found Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and his own son dead. They had been chopped with a hatchet, sliced with a knife, and stabbed with an ice-pick. Josh Ryen, the 8-year-old son of Douglas and Peggy, had survived. His throat had been cut. The family station wagon was gone; it was discovered several days later in Long Beach, California, about 50 miles west of Chino Hills. The mother's purse was in plain sight on the kitchen counter, but no money had been taken.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department deputies who responded to the call decided almost immediately that Kevin Cooper was the likely killer. He had admittedly hidden out in the vacant house next door, the Lease house, 125 yards away, for two days. He had made repeated calls from this house to two female friends asking for money to help with his escape, but they had refused. Cooper testified at trial that he had left that house as soon as it got dark on June 4 and had hitchhiked to Mexico. It was established that Cooper checked into a hotel in Tijuana, about 130 miles south of Chino Hills, at 4:30 pm on June 5.

There, Cooper befriended an American couple who owned a boat, and hitched a ride on the boat with them; he was arrested shortly thereafter when the boat sailed to Pelican Bay near Santa Barbara.

A blood-stained khaki green button identical to buttons on field jackets issued at the state prison from which Cooper escaped was found on the rug at the Lease house; tests revealed the presence of blood in the Leases' shower and bathroom sink; hair found in the bathroom sink was consistent with that of Jessica and Doug Ryen; a hatchet covered with dried blood and human hair that was found near the Ryens' home was missing from the Lease house, and the sheath for the hatchet was found in the bedroom where Cooper had stayed; Cooper's semen was found on a blanket in the closet of the Lease house; plant burrs found inside Jessica's nightgown were similar to burrs from vegetation between the Lease house and the Ryen house and to burrs found on a blanket inside the closet where Cooper slept at the Lease house, and in the Ryen station wagon; two partial shoe prints and one nearly complete one found in or near the Ryens' house and in the Lease house were consistent with Cooper's shoe size and Pro-Keds Dude tennis shoes issued at CIM that Cooper did not deny having; a hand-rolled cigarette butt and "Role-Rite" tobacco provided to inmates at CIM were in the Ryens' vehicle.

Trial

On Cooper's motion, the court changed the venue of the trial from San Bernardino County to San Diego County. Cooper pled guilty to the charge of escape from prison.

In videotaped testimony, Josh Ryen said that the evening before the murders, just before the family left for the Blade barbecue, three Mexicans came to the Ryen home looking for work. Ryen did not identify the killer, but said in an audiotape with his treating psychiatrist that he saw the back of a single man attacking his mother. Ryen told a sheriff he thought three men had done it because "I thought it was them. And, you know, like they stopped up that night," but he did not actually see three people during the incident.

Cooper testified in his own defense. He admitted escaping from CIM, hiding out and sleeping at the Lease house, but denied committing the murders or being in the Ryen house. Cooper said he left the Lease house on foot, hitchhiked, stole a purse, and eventually made his way to Mexico. The defense pointed out the inconsistencies in Ryen's testimony, presented evidence of other events apparently not involving Cooper that might have had something to do with the killings, and presented an expert witness that criticized the forensic investigation.

A jury convicted Cooper of four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder with the intentional infliction of great bodily injury, and then imposed the death penalty.

Claims of innocence and manipulation of evidence

Cooper has continuously denied any involvement in the crimes for almost 30 years. Some arguments supporting his innocence are:

  • Multiple weapons were used in the murders, which supporters believe indicates that more than one person committed the crime, whereas the prosecution concluded that Cooper acted alone.

  • The sole survivor, Josh Ryen, had told a social worker in the emergency room that the murders were committed by 3 or 4 white men. Josh spelled his message by pointing at letters on a clipboard as he was unable to speak, but the social worker and medical staff observed that he was lucid and could spell his name and address correctly. Judge Fletcher wrote, "Deputies misrepresented his recollections and gradually shaped his testimony so that it was consistent with the prosecution's theory that there was only one killer." Jurors, however, said they disregarded Ryen's testimony because they believed he was confused and traumatized.

  • Judge Fletcher argued that the bloody shoe-print was likely to be from a shoe different from the one Cooper would have been wearing.

  • Blond hairs were found clutched in Jessica Ryen's hand.

  • In the initial search of the Ryen's station wagon, no cigarette butts were found. Judge Fletcher writes, "Some of those cigarette butts could have easily been planted in the car. Moreover, after initial forensic testing, paper from a hand-rolled cigarette butt supposedly found in the station wagon was described as consumed. That same paper later “reappeared” and was offered into evidence. When the paper “reappeared,” it was significantly larger than the paper in the cigarette butt that had been tested."

  • Judge Fletcher suggested that the chemical test on the Lease's shower would have returned a positive result in the presence of bleach, as well as of blood, and that the shower had recently been cleaned with bleach.

  • Judge Fletcher writes that while a button found in the house came from a green prison jacket, "uncontradicted evidence at trial showed that Cooper was wearing a brown or tan prison-issued jacket when he escaped."

  • Judge Fletcher suggested that preservatives found in the blood on the t-shirt indicated that it may have been planted. "If the EDTA testing already performed shows that Cooper’s blood was planted on the t-shirt, or if further EDTA testing does the same thing, that showing greatly increases the likelihood that much of the evidence introduced at trial was false," Fletcher wrote.

  • "On June 9, a woman named Diana Roper called the Sheriff’s Department to tell them that her boyfriend, Lee Furrow, had come home in the early hours on the night of June 4. He arrived in an unfamiliar station wagon with some people who stayed in the car. He changed out of his overalls, which he left on the floor of a closet. He was not wearing a t-shirt that he had been wearing earlier in the day. He left the house after about five minutes and did not return. [Roper and her father] both concluded that the overalls were spattered with blood. Roper turned the overalls over to the Sheriff’s Department and told the deputy that she thought Furrow was involved in the murders. Roper later provided an affidavit stating that a bloody t-shirt found beside the road leading from the murder house had been Furrow’s. It was a Fruit-of-the-Loom t-shirt with a breast pocket. Roper stated that she recognized it because she had bought it for him. She also stated that a bloody hatchet found beside the road matched a hatchet that was now missing from her garage. [...] The Sheriff’s Department never tested the overalls for blood, never turned them over to Cooper or his lawyers, and threw them away in a dumpster on the day of Cooper’s arraignment."

  • "Furrow had been released from state prison a year earlier. He had been part of a murderous gang, but had been given a short sentence in return for turning state’s evidence against the leader of the gang. The leader was sentenced to death. Furrow told friends that while he was part of the gang he killed a girl, cut up her body, and thrown her body parts into the Kern River."

  • Another prison inmate, Kenneth Koon, told his cellmate, Anthony Wisely, that he had committed the murders but has since recanted his statement.

First hand account of survivor

Joshua Ryen made the following statement during a hearing in U.S. District Court in San Diego on April 22, 2005. Ryen is the sole survivor of the 1983 hatchet massacre in Chino Hills in which his parents, sister and friend were killed. Ryen, then eight years old, survived the attack despite having his throat slashed.

The first time I met Kevin Cooper I was eight years old and he slit my throat. He hit me with a hatchet and put a hole in my skull. He stabbed me twice, which broke my ribs and collapsed one lung. I lived only because I stuck four fingers in my neck to slow the bleeding, but I was too weak to move. I laid there 11 hours looking at my mother who was right beside me. I know now he came through the sliding glass door and attacked my dad first. He was lying on the bed and was struck in the dark without warning with the hatchet and knife. He was hit many times because there is a lot of blood on the wall on his side of the bed. My mother screamed and Cooper came around the bed and started hitting her. Somehow my dad was able to struggle between the bed and the closet but Cooper bludgeoned my father to death with the knife and hatchet, stabbing him 26 times and axing him 11. One of the blows severed his finger and it landed in the closet. My mother tried to get away but he caught her at the bottom of the bed and he stabbed her 25 times and axed her 7. All of us kids were drawn to the room by mom's screams. Jessica was killed in the doorway with five ax blows and 46 stabs. I won't say how many times my best friend Chris was stabbed and axed, not because it isn't important, but because I don't want to hurt his family in any way, and they are here.

DNA testing

In 2001, Cooper became the first death row inmate in California to successfully request post-conviction DNA testing of evidence. The results of those DNA tests failed to exonerate him of the 1983 murders and indicated that hairs found on three of the victims were likely their own.

The tests suggested that there is "strong evidence" that it was Kevin Cooper's DNA that was extracted from the following items of evidence:

  • A bloodstain found inside the Ryens' home.

  • The saliva on a hand rolled cigarette butt found inside the Ryen station wagon

  • The saliva on a manufactured cigarette butt found inside the Ryen station wagon

  • A bloodstain located on a tee shirt that was found beside a road some distance from the Ryen home. There is strong evidence that one of the victims, Doug Ryen, was the donor of another bloodstain found on the same tee shirt. Cooper is also consistent with being the donor of two additional blood smears and a possible donor of blood spatter on the same tee shirt. The testing of the bloodstain on the hatchet, which was one of the murder weapons, revealed that the victims Jessica Ryen, Doug Ryen, and Chris Hughes were all possible contributors to this sample. Those three victims can account for all the results detected in that mixture. Peggy Ryen and Josh Ryen cannot be excluded as possible minor contributors to this mixture as well.

Cooper was scheduled to be executed on February 10, 2004, but his execution was postponed only hours before it was to take place to allow for further DNA testing. The postponement followed a campaign by various groups in the Bay Area and around the country, such as the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the ACLU, Death Penalty Focus, and The Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Denial of clemency

On January 30, 2004, the office of Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger issued the following statement regarding his decision not to grant clemency to Kevin Cooper:

"I have carefully weighed the claims presented in Kevin Cooper's plea for clemency. The state and federal courts have reviewed this case for more than 18 years. Evidence establishing his guilt is overwhelming, and his conversion to faith and his mentoring of others, while commendable, do not diminish the cruelty and destruction he has inflicted on so many. His is not a case for clemency."

Appeals

Cooper has filed multiple appeals and applications for a writ of habeas corpus, all of which have been denied. On December 4, 2007, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Cooper's third federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The panel concluded: "As the district court, and all state courts, have repeatedly found, evidence of Cooper’s guilt was overwhelming. The tests that he asked for to show his innocence 'once and for all' show nothing of the sort."

On May 11, 2009, the Ninth Circuit denied Cooper's request for a rehearing en banc of the 2007 panel decision. Four judges (Fletcher, Wardlaw, Fisher, and Reinhardt) filed dissents, indicating that they disagreed with the decision. Judge Fletcher stated that there was a strong likelihood that the police may have tampered with the evidence. Eleven judges joined the dissents (fourteen votes were required to grant the request for a rehearing). Judge Rymer, who authored the original panel decision, filed a concurrence.

Cooper's petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court was denied on November 30, 2009

Wikipedia.org


Kevin Cooper case overview

By Rod Leveque - Daily Bulletin Staff Writer

August 1, 2004

Christopher Hughes was late for church.

The night before, June 4, 1983, he had spent the night at the house of his friends, Josh and Jessica Ryen, and his father was worried.

So, Bill Hughes went over to the Ryens' Chino Hills home to make sure everything was OK.

It wasn't.

What he found was a blood-soaked bedroom and the mutilated bodies of Franklin Douglas Ryen and Ryen's wife, Peggy, both 41, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and his own son, 11-year-old Christopher Hughes, all of whom had been hacked and stabbed to death.

Hughes will forever know the pain of walking into the Ryens' home the morning after the murders, and finding his son, dead and covered in blood near the Ryens' bedroom door. He was also the first to discover Joshua Ryen, also drenched in blood, clinging to life.

"It is a memory he will always have to live with," his wife, Mary Ann Hughes said in a 2004 interview.

Not long after the grisly discovery, the attention of police turned to Kevin Cooper, an inmate who had escaped from the nearby California Institution for Men. A massive manhunt ensued, and Cooper was found almost two months later on a boat off Santa Barbara.

Cooper eventually was convicted of the murders and sentenced to die Feb.10, 2004 at San Quentin State Prison.

But after 18 years of appeals, his attorneys prevailed in convincing a federal appeals court to halt the execution. The court ruled that the state couldn't put Cooper to death without a federal judge first reviewing several bits of evidence his attorneys say could exonerate him.

The Chino Hills murders for which Cooper sits on Death Row have become lore in the Inland Valley, as much for their grisly nature as for the questions that have been raised since Cooper's trial.

The Ryens' 8-year-old son, Joshua, survived a slashed throat, a hatchet blow to the head and stab wounds to his back.

Cooper, who escaped from the state prison two days before the killings, denies involvement.

A passionate legion of supporters back his claims that authorities bungled the investigation and framed him for the crimes.

"While I am an innocent man about to be murdered by this state, I realize that innocence makes no difference to the people who control the criminal justice system, including this prison," Cooper, 46, wrote from San Quentin State Prison a few days before his scheduled execution date. "This is the same system that has historically and systematically executed men, women and children who look just like me, if only because they can."

The contentions hinged on bits and pieces of scattered evidence the defense says pokes holes in the prosecution's case and proves Cooper's innocence.

Prosecutors, the courts and relatives of the victims, say the claims are nonsense.

They say a crushing mountain of evidence, 19 years of appeals and DNA tests prove beyond all doubt that Cooper is a murderer, and that the time has come for him to take responsibility for the killings and accept the punishment he has earned.

"Now I know for sure and beyond a shadow of a doubt that Cooper is the killer," Josh Ryen, now grown, wrote in a 2004 letter to the governor. "I really want him to die, not only for what he did to me and my family, but because he tormented me so much with his claim of innocence."

VIOLENT NIGHT

Paul Beltz cannot forget the horror.

The first sheriff's deputy to respond to the Ryens' hilltop horse ranch on English Road, Beltz found a home strewn with bodies and stained with blood.

"I thought, "my God, what in the hell have I come across,"' he said in 2004, describing a massacre scene still fresh in his mind. "The walls were all white, but smeared with blood - I mean, everywhere. It was like something you see in a Helter Skelter movie. That must have been one holy battlefield."

Four bodies lay on the bedroom floor, another in a nearby hallway.

Douglas Ryen, a chiropractor, was slumped against his bed, the victim of at least three dozen hatchet and knife wounds. One of his fingers was severed, probably while he fought off a hatchet blow to his head.

Peggy Ryen suffered at least 32 wounds. Her body was found only three feet from her daughter, Jessica, who was hacked at least 46 times and died on a hallway floor.

Hughes, a neighborhood boy who spent the night with the Ryens following a barbecue with his friends the day before, also lay on the floor. He suffered at least 25 wounds, including a hatchet gash that ran from his eyebrows to the tip of his nose.

Joshua Ryen was found in a fetal position, his throat deeply slashed, barely alive.

The carnage frightened Beltz to his core.

"I felt inadequate holding a handgun," the former deputy said.

The Ryen family station wagon had been stolen from the driveway, yet money on a countertop was untouched.

Joshua Ryen, the sole survivor, told paramedics in the hours after he was found that he remembered three men coming to his house that day, and that he thought they returned to kill his family.

Unable to speak because of the wounds on his neck, he communicated by squeezing the hands of staffers at Loma Linda University Medical Center.

But later, during interviews with police, Joshua told a different story.

He said the three men he remembered were Mexican workers who came to his house looking for jobs well before the killings.

He said that on the night of the murders he remembered seeing only the shadow of a single person standing over his murdered parents' bed before he, too, was struck in the head and blacked out.

He lay bleeding for 12 hours before help came.

A WANTED MAN

Cooper became a suspect in the first days of the investigation.

He had walked away from a minimum-security yard at the nearby California Institution for Men two days before the murders and hadn't been seen since.

Escape was easy for a man like Cooper, a wanted rapist who already escaped from eleven other mental hospitals and jails by the time he turned 25.

But authorities didn't know who he was when they sentenced him to the Chino prison.

He was convicted of burglary in Los Angeles County under a fake name - David Anthony Trautman - and sent to the prison April 29, 1983.

The prison, thinking it had a two-time burglar with no prior arrest record, assigned him to its minimum security facility June 1.

He walked out through a hole in the fence.

It wasn't until two hours after the prison staff figured out he was gone that they realized exactly who they had lost.

Cooper was a former mental patient in Pittsburgh and had escaped from jails, mental hospitals and youth facilities nearly a dozen times before.

He had a lengthy criminal record dating back to his youth, and was wanted for burglary, kidnapping and rape in Pennsylvania in which he held a screwdriver to a woman's throat, threatened to kill her and stole a car.

Cooper evaded prison officials by hiding in a lumberyard until dark. He then sneaked across fields and roads in a path that took him straight to an unoccupied house along English Road.

It was 126 yards from the Ryens' home.

He entered the vacant house's garage through an unlocked door, drank two beers from a refrigerator and then went inside.

It made a good hideout, complete with a television, working telephone and a nice spot to sleep.

That much Cooper admits.

He claims, however, that he only stayed there a while before hitchhiking out of town. He says he never so much as looked at the Ryen family home.

It was only a coincidence, he said, that the murders happened next door.

Authorities disagree.

They say Cooper found a hatchet and knife inside the vacant home, and on June 4, 1983, crept to the Ryen home armed with the weapons.

Once inside, he systematically hacked down its occupants, starting with Doug, Peggy and Jessica.

Joshua and Christopher were likely attacked after screams awoke them and they came out to investigate.

After the murders, authorities say, Cooper stole the family's car and sped out of town.

Christopher's father, Bill Hughes, found the bodies the next morning and called police.

Detectives obtained a warrant for Cooper's arrest June 9, 1983, sparking widespread publicity and a massive manhunt.

Meanwhile, Cooper made his way to Ensenada, Mexico, where he found a job as a deckhand on a 32-foot sailboat, the Illa Tika, in exchange for food and shelter.

The couple who hired him later told authorities that he told them his name was Angel Jackson and that he was an artist from Philadelphia.

He drew sketches for them and their 5-year-old daughter as they sailed north from Mexico and along the California coast.

They said they heard reports of the manhunt for Cooper on their boat's A.M. radio, but never suspected their deckhand because the broadcasts never included Cooper's description.

Cooper was arrested on the boat July 30 in Pelican Cove off Santa Barbara after a woman there claimed he had raped her aboard another boat anchored nearby.

She later testified that Cooper held a knife to her throat and forced her to have sex with him after her husband drank too much and passed out.

He was never charged with the rape.

THE TRIAL

The prosecution's case against Cooper relied entirely on circumstantial evidence.

But prosecutors had a mountain of it.

A hatchet had been stolen from inside the house where Cooper hid out, according to the home's owner, and its leather sheath was lying on the floor of the bedroom in which Cooper slept.

The hatchet, with blood and hair from some of the Ryens, was later found along the only paved road leading out of the neighborhood.

Also missing from the hideout house were two knives - one hunting knife with a five-inch blade and another folding knife with a 2 1/2-inch blade - and an ice pick.

Prison-issue tobacco was found inside the Ryen family car, which turned up in a parking lot near a church in Long Beach six days after the murders.

Detectives found a shoe print on a bloody bedsheet inside the Ryens' master bedroom. Another was found outside on a spa cover, and yet another in the dust of the hideout house.

The diamond prints matched the type of ProKeds prison-issue shoes Cooper was issued at the California Institution for Men before his escape.

A spot of blood found in the hallway of the Ryen family home matched Cooper's rare blood type.

Investigators found indications of blood in the shower and bathroom sink in the hideout home, indicating Cooper went back there to clean up before he fled.

A blood-stained button from a prison-issue jacket was also in the hideout home, and telephone records showed that Cooper made two calls from the house to friends asking for help with money or transportation.

The last call was made about an hour before the Ryens returned home from their barbecue.

"We had overwhelming evidence of his guilt," said San Bernardino County Chief Deputy District Attorney John Kochis. "The footprints, the tobacco, the timing, the murder weapon, the missing car - overwhelming."

Cooper took the witness stand during his trial and admitted hiding out near the Ryens' home. However, he repeatedly insisted that he went no closer.

He testified that he braided his hair, shaved his beard and made several phone calls at the hideout house, and then quietly left town.

"I didn't kill anybody," he told the jury.

Jurors heard testimony from 141 witnesses and sifted through 788 pieces of evidence during a three-month trial, which was moved to San Diego County because of excessive publicity in San Bernardino County.

David Negus, the deputy public defender who represented Cooper at the time, says he still doesn't know if Cooper killed the Ryens and Hughes.

He's convinced, however, that investigators botched critical parts of the investigation so badly that some questions may never be answered.

"Obviously if it wasn't Kevin, then it was a tremendous coincidence that Kevin was hiding out next door," Negus said. "But coincidences happen."

Negus tried to convince jurors during the trial that sheriff's investigators were sloppy and that the parade of people - more than 50 - who went through the crime scene could easily have contaminated evidence.

He said he also believed investigators locked on to Cooper as their suspect early in the investigation simply because he was an escapee, and possibly to the exclusion of others who may have committed the crimes.

"They had a horrible crime and they had an escaped convict who was right next door," Negus said. "To them, that was all they needed. They got the arrest warrant with those facts and came up with all the other evidence later."

Jurors didn't buy it.

The seven-woman, five-man panel convicted Cooper of four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder Feb. 19, 1985.

The same jury recommended on March 1, 1985, that Cooper deserved to die for his crimes.

"It was just one of those things where there was so much there it couldn't have been a coincidence," said juror Shirley LaPage, now 72. "It all just came together too well.

A 20-YEAR STRUGGLE

Long after his conviction, Cooper continues to maintain his innocence from San Quentin State Prison's Death Row, even as court after court knocks down his claims.

Among his chief contentions:

* A cluster of blond hairs found clutched in Jessica Ryen's hand could hold clues that somebody other than Cooper - who is black - was the killer.

* Joshua Ryen saw three white or Mexican men kill his family.

* Detectives ignored a pair of bloody coveralls and a jailhouse confession that could have led to other suspects, and then planted evidence that links Cooper to the killings.

The California Supreme Court reviewed his case in 1991, finding that the evidence gathered by prosecutors established his guilt "overwhelmingly."

Dozens of his other appeals have been denied. Appeals of his appeals were denied.

His attorneys once claimed Cooper should not be executed because he is mentally retarded.

In 2001, Cooper became the first Death Row inmate in the state to obtain DNA testing of the evidence against him after a conviction.

Those tests, completed in October 2002, showed that the spot of blood found on a wall inside the Ryen home belonged to Cooper.

They determined Cooper's DNA was on the cigarette butts in the stolen Ryen station wagon. And they revealed that blood on a brown T-shirt found along a road about a mile from the Ryen home contained DNA from Cooper and Doug Ryen.

Cooper remained defiant.

His defense claimed that the DNA evidence connecting him to the killings was planted by police and asked a federal judge to allow testing to see if the blood spots contain traces of a crime-lab preservative. The court rejected the request.

***But U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Huff ordered mitochondrial DNA tests on a cluster of blond hairs found clutched in Jessica Ryen's hand - hairs the defense says could lead to the identity of other suspects.***

And, the appeals court ordered some old leads re-examined.

Among those are coveralls turned over to deputies by a woman in May 1984, who told investigators she thought they were linked to the Ryen slayings.

The woman told deputies that her boyfriend, Lee Furrow, who had already been convicted of manslaughter, came home wearing them the night of the Ryen murders and that they looked like they had blood and hair on them.

She told investigators Furrow had also been wearing a brown T-shirt similar to the one found on the roadside, and that his hatchet was missing from his tool belt.

Deputies from the Yucaipa Sheriff's station checked the coveralls into their evidence locker and notified homicide detectives.

But the deputies threw away the coveralls six months later because the detectives never came to pick them up.

Jurors heard about the coveralls at Cooper's trial, but Cooper's attorneys claim the importance of the coveralls is compounded by another piece of evidence jurors didn't hear about.

While incarcerated at Vacaville prison in 1984, an inmate told police that his cellmate, Kenneth Koon, had confessed in detail to committing murders along with two friends as part of a hit.

Cooper's defense says Koon and Furrow were friends.

Koon, who testified before the federal court in San Diego, said he married a woman who had been Furrow's girlfriend, but the men were never friends.

"I had a very strong dislike for Furrow," Koon said. "I would never had gone to the bar and had a drink with him, let alone commit a murder with him."

They say those nuggets of information, compounded by Joshua Ryen's initial statements about the three men who came to his house, offer a strong theory that Cooper didn't commit the crimes.

"There are too many unanswered questions," said Lanny Davis, one of several attorneys defending Cooper. "All these things don't add up."

DEFENDING THE CASE

Kochis, the prosecutor, said each of those leads has been exhaustively investigated and discounted.

DNA testing done on the hairs shows they belonged to the victims, and not to another attacker, as the defense has contended.

Prosecutors also don't believe the coveralls were linked to the crime. The story is one of several false leads that came in after the killings by people who had heard about the case through the media and sought attention, they say.

The woman's story about finding the coveralls has changed through the years, they say, and Koon's jailhouse confession has been fully investigated and ruled out.

Prosecutors say it came while he and his were cellmate high on marijuana, and was never again repeated.

"These people had alibis to where they were," Kochis said. "They didn't appear to be involved."

Kochis said prosecutors oppose further tests on the blond hair or blood spots because doing so would only cause more unnecessary delay.

"Cooper has already received DNA tests and has had his appeals litigated. He comes up with some new issue each time and will continue to do so until the day he dies," Kochis said.

"They want to engage in a process that, if they were allowed to engage in, would go on for months and years," he said. "That's the name of the game. He doesn't just get to keep going."

DEATH WATCH

Until he won a stay on his emergency appeals, Cooper would have become the second inmate from San Bernardino County executed in the last 40 years.

Stephen Wayne Anderson was put to death in January 2003 for shooting to death 81-year-old piano teacher Elizabeth Lyman inside her Bloomington home in 1980.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denied Cooper's clemency request and has seemed unwilling to reconsider, but on Feb. 9, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld later the same day.

LaPage, the ex-juror, said she still thinks about the Cooper trial and has closely followed the media coverage during the years since.

Six of the jurors who convicted Cooper have since written to the governor asking for more investigation into the case.

LaPage isn't one of them.

She said she's unmoved by the questions Cooper has raised, and is still as firm in her belief of Cooper's guilt today as she was when she first heard the evidence.

"It gives me the shivers," she said. "But the children - that family - they were butchered, and we can never forget about that."


Joshua Ryen's court statement in the Kevin Cooper execution case

April 23, 2005

Joshua Ryen made the following statement during a hearing in U.S. District Court in San Diego on Friday, April 22, 2005. Ryen is the sole survivor of a 1983 hatchet massacre in Chino Hills in which his parents, sister and friend were killed. Ryen, then 8, survived the attack despite having his throat slashed.

The first time I met Kevin Cooper I was 8 years old and he slit my throat. He hit me with a hatchet and put a hole in my skull. He stabbed me twice, which broke my ribs and collapsed one lung. I lived only because I stuck four fingers in my neck to slow the bleeding, but I was too weak to move. I laid there 11 hours looking at my mother who was right beside me.

I know now he came through the sliding glass door and attacked my dad first. He was lying on the bed and was struck in the dark without warning with the hatchet and knife. He was hit many times because there is a lot of blood on the wall on his side of the bed.

My mother screamed and Cooper came around the bed and started hitting her. Somehow my dad was able to struggle between the bed and the closet but Cooper bludgeoned my father to death with the knife and hatchet, stabbing him 26 times and axing him 11. One of the blows severed his finger and it landed in the closet. My mother tried to get away but he caught her at the bottom of the bed and he stabbed her 25 times and axed her 7.

All of us kids were drawn to the room by mom's screams. Jessica was killed in the doorway with 5 ax blows and 46 stabs. I won't say how many times my best friend Chris was stabbed and axed, not because it isn't important, but because I don't want to hurt his family in any way, and they are here.

After Cooper killed everyone, and thought he had killed me, he went over to my sister and lifted her shirt and drew things on her stomach with the knife. Then he walked down the hallway, opened the refrigerator, and had a beer. I guess killing so many people can make a man thirsty.

I don't want to be here. I came because I owe it to my family, who can't speak for themselves. But by coming I am acknowledging and validating the existence of Kevin Cooper, who should have been blotted from the face of the earth a long time ago. By coming here it shows that he still controls me. I will be free, my life will start, the day Kevin Cooper dies. I want to be rid of him, but he won't go away.

I've been trying to get away from him since I was 8 years and I can't escape. He haunts me and follows me. For over 20 years all I've heard is Kevin Cooper this and Kevin Cooper that. Kevin Cooper says he is innocent, Kevin Cooper says he was framed, Kevin Cooper says DNA will clear him, Kevin Cooper says blood was planted, Kevin Cooper says the tennis shoes aren't his, Kevin Cooper says three guys did it, Kevin Cooper says police planted evidence, Kevin Cooper gets another stay from another court and sends everyone off on another wild goose chase.

The courts say there isn't any harm when Kevin Cooper gets another stay and another hearing. This just shows they don't care about me, because every time he gets another delay I am harmed and have to relive the murders all over again. Every time Kevin Cooper opens his mouth everyone wants to know what I think, what I have to say, how I'm feeling, and the whole nightmare floods all over me again: the barbecue, me begging to let Chris spend the night, me in my bed and him on the floor beside me, my mother's screams, Chris gone, dark house, hallway, bushy hair, everything black, mom cut to pieces saturated in blood, the nauseating smell of blood, eleven hours unable to move, light filtering in, Chris' father at the window, the horror of his face, sound of the front door splintering, my pajamas being cut off, people trying to save me, the whap whap of the helicopter blades, shouted questions, everything fading to black.

Every time Cooper claims he's innocent and sends people scurrying off on another wild goose chase I have to relive the murders all over again. It runs like a horror movie, over and over again and never stops because he never shuts up. He puts PR people on national television who say outrageous things and then the press wants to know what I think. What I think is that I would like to be rid of Kevin Cooper. I would like for him to go away. I would like to never hear from Kevin Cooper again. I would like Kevin Cooper to pay for what he did.

I dread happy times like Christmas and Thanksgiving. If I go to a friend's house on holidays I look at all the mothers and fathers and children and grandchildren and get sad because I have no one. Kevin Cooper took them from me.

I get terrified when I go into any place dark, like a house before the lights are on. I hear screams and see flashbacks and shadows. Even with lights on I see terrible things. After I was stabbed and axed I was too weak to move and stared at my mother all night. I smelled this overpowering smell of fresh blood and knew everyone had been slaughtered.

Every day when I comb my hair I feel the hole where he buried the hatchet in my head, and when I look in the mirror I see the scar where he cut my throat from ear to ear and I put four fingers in it to stop the bleeding which, they say, saved my life. Every year I lose hearing in my left ear where he buried the knife.

Helicopters give me flashbacks of life flight and my Incredible Hulks being cut off by paramedics. Bushy hair reminds me of the killer. Silence reminds me of the quiet before the screams. Cooper is everywhere. There is no escape from him.

I feel very guilty and responsible to the Hughes family because I begged them to let Chris spend the night. If I hadn't done that he wouldn't have died. I apologize to them and especially to Mr. Hughes for having to find us and see his son cut and stabbed to death.

I thank the judge who gave my grandma custody of me because she took good care of me and loves me very much.

I'm grateful to the ocean for giving me peace because when I go there I know my mother and father and sister's ashes are sprinkled there.

Kevin Cooper has movie stars and Jesse Jackson holding rallies for him, people carrying signs, lighting candles, saying prayers. To them and you I say:

I was 8 when he slit my throat,
It was dark and I couldn't see.
Through the night and day I laid there,
trying to get up and flee.
He killed my mother, father, sister, friend,
And started stalking me.
I try to run and flee from him but cannot get away,
While he demands petitions and claims, some fresh absurdity.
Justice has no ear for me nor cares about my plight,
while crowds pray for the killer and light candles in the night.
To those who long for justice and love truth which sets men free, When you pray your prayers tonight, please remember me.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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