The Fight For Kevin Cooper

DNA Testing Raises More Questions Than It Answers

By: Crystal Bybee

Regular readers of the New Abolitionist will be familiar with the case of California death row prisoner Kevin Cooper. The Bay Area Campaign to End the Death Penalty began publicizing this case and petitioning for DNA testing that we had hoped would prove Kevin’s innocence. We won the testing, but now four pieces of evidence have come back linking Kevin to the crime.

We believe that this evidence was mishandled and very likely tampered with. This is a case where the DNA testing actually raises more questions than it answers.

Kevin was convicted of the 1983 murder of a San Bernardino County family. Eight-year-old Josh Ryen survived to tell police that three white or Hispanic men had killed his family and attacked him. Kevin Cooper, an African American man, now sits on death row for this crime and could face execution--despite the fact that the case against him is full of holes.

Destruction of evidence and police misconduct have played a part in the case from the beginning, but neither Kevin nor his attorneys knew the extent of the mishandling of evidence prior to signing a DNA testing agreement. Kevin’s defense attorneys are attempting to bring this information before the court. They are also attempting to have further testing done on the blond hair that was found in one victim’s hands (which is certainly not Kevin’s, as he is African American). As for the evidence that was tested, in 1999, several pieces from Kevin’s case were released to a criminalist named Daniel Gregonis without a court order or the knowledge of Kevin’s legal counsel. The reason for checking out the evidence for 24 hours was never explained. Evidence tampering would have been very easy during this time.

In early October, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Kevin’s appeal, sending him to the top of the list of inmates awaiting execution. While we are not sure when they will set a date, we do know that we can’t depend on the legal system to stop his execution.

We need a grassroots movement in California, one that links the issues in Kevin’s case--racism, poverty, police misconduct and inadequate defense--with others, like Stan "Tookie" Williams. Stan--a former co-founder of the Crips gang--has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his books that encourage kids to stay out of gangs. Like Kevin Cooper, he is close to execution. The Bay Area CEDP is mobilizing to stop these executions--and fight for a moratorium to stop all executions.