Kevin Cooper Awaits DNA Test Results

By: Crystal Bybee

Kevin Cooper is an innocent man sitting on the largest death row in the country, where he waits for the results of the DNA tests that could prove his innocence.

Kevin is the first death row inmate to be granted postconviction DNA testing since California Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill allowing DNA testing into law in January 2001. Though the prosecution insisted that the testing be done in an out-of-court settlement to avoid setting a legal precedent, Kevin’s case will make headlines.

The test results should come out in the next several months (after almost a year of delays) -- in the middle of the California gubernatorial race, in which Davis, a Democrat, has put out campaign ads reaffirming his support for the death penalty. His Republican challenger, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, also supports the death penalty, but has made statements allowing for the possibility of a moratorium. The death penalty has been a minor issue in the race so far, but could become more important.

As a result, the release of Kevin’s DNA results will be a major event in California, and perhaps beyond.

No one is sure what the results will be, due to the possibility that prosecutors tampered with evidence when they removed several pieces from storage for 24 hours in 1999, unbeknownst to Kevin, his lawyers, or activists who fought for the testing to take place. The history of police misconduct in the case makes this extremely suspicious.

With Kevin running out of appeals, the test results will be a turning point. Anti—death penalty activists need to be prepared to respond.

Despite its size, California’s death row gets relatively little attention in the national debate over the death penalty. Kevin’s case could change all of that, and activists can shape which way this debate is presented.

The Oakland chapter of the Campaign is currently working on plans for an emergency response network and rallies and meetings to follow the announcement of test results.

We will need to take action to win justice for Kevin Cooper -- and to win a moratorium here in California.