After The New York Times reported that death row inmate Kevin Cooper may have been framed for the murder of a family of four in 1983, he got the Christmas present of new hope on Monday when California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a new DNA test that could prove his innocence.
Brown, in his final days as governor, ordered the testing of four pieces of evidence that Cooper’s attorneys say will show he was wrongly convicted, according to The Associated Press. Cooper, now 60, was found guilty in 1985 of the hatchet and knife murders of Doug and Peggy Ryen, their daughter Jessica, 10, and neighbor Christopher Hughes, 11, in Chino Hills.
Nicholas Kristof, who wrote a column for the Times last year and a follow-up investigation this year that renewed interest in Cooper’s case, offered his congratulations Monday to the inmate’s team on Twitter.
Brown’s executive order means that four items from the crime scene will be reexamined in comparison to Cooper’s DNA: A tan T-shirt, an orange towel, and a hatchet handle and sheath. Kristof believes that testing will exonerate the man who was once hours away from execution when his death sentence was stayed in 2004.
“I take no position as to Mr. Cooper’s guilt or innocence at this time, but colorable factual questions have been raised about whether advances in DNA technology warrant limited retesting of certain physical evidence in this case,” Brown wrote in the order, obtained by the AP.
In October, Kristof filed a final plea with Brown before the governor left office. The reporting implied that Cooper’s fate wasn’t ever certain, even as the governor said he’d “act” upon pleas from reporters, politicians and celebrities.
I asked Brown what he is waiting for, and he emphasized that he is reviewing the case with input from both sides. ‘I’ll act on it,’ he said. He also protested that my reporting on the case, which led to widespread calls for DNA testing, was one-sided and had ‘left out a number of elements.’
I suggested that for an innocent man on death row, every extra day is no minor thing. Brown shrugged and observed that California has 130,000 prisoners.
Kim Kardashian was among those calling for Brown to act. Kardashian, along with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and state Treasurer John Chiang, had joined the rallying cry.
Cooper’s attorney, Norman Hile, previously said evidence was planted on his client and that newer and more sensitive DNA tests would prove that. He also argued that investigators planted other evidence to frame Cooper, according to the AP. Multiple appeals have been denied, and Cooper remains in San Quentin Prison.