On November 30, 2009, the United States Supreme Court upheld the Ninth Circuit Court’s denial of Kevin Cooper’s appeal. The Ninth Circuit Court was bitterly divided. An unprecedented 103-page dissent signed by five of judges warned that, “the State of California may be about to execute an innocent man.”
This is a terrible injustice, but we must continue to fight. The lethal injection challenge prevents the state from immediately setting an execution date. But the state’s intent is to re-start executions in California – and to execute Kevin Cooper. We need to educate people about Kevin’s case, expose the racism and injustice, and grow our movement for justice for Kevin Cooper – to free Kevin Cooper.
Kevin Cooper was wrongfully convicted of the 1983 murders of the Ryen family and houseguest. The case has a long history of police and prosecutorial misconduct, evidence tampering, and numerous constitutional violations including many incidences of the prosecution withholding evidence of innocence from the defense (known as Brady violations.)
The 103-page dissent pleaded identified many instances of police and prosecutorial misconduct, including:
False testimony- Josh Ryen, the only eyewitness to the murders and the victims’ 8-year old son, initially told the police that three white men killed his family. According to the dissent, after the police arrested Cooper, who is black, “[d]eputies misrepresented [Josh’s] recollections and gradually shaped his testimony so that it was consistent with the prosecution’s theory that there was only one killer."
Destruction of evidence and lying at trial- A witness told the police that her boyfriend, a white supremacist gang member and convicted murderer, came to her house covered in blood on the night of the murders. She turned a pair of his blood-spattered coveralls over to the sheriff as evidence. The sheriff discarded the coveralls without testing the blood stains and did not tell Cooper’s defense lawyer about this evidence until the middle of his preliminary hearing. At trial, the sheriff’s deputy who discarded the coveralls testified he did so without sheriff-department approval, testimony that has recently been shown to be a lie.
Undisclosed exculpatory evidence- The prosecution retrieved a blue shirt with blood on it near the crime scene a few days after the crimes but never disclosed this to Cooper’s defense. “The prosecution committed a...violation by not making the blue shirt available to Cooper’s attorneys.” What’s worse, “the prosecution committed a...violation in not turning over a copy of the [sheriff’s] daily logs that recorded the discovery of the blue shirt.”
Planting false evidence- Prosecution lab tests of a second bloody shirt showed “an extremely high level of EDTA [a preservative] in the sample that was supposed to contain Cooper’s blood.” According to five federal judges, “[i]f that test result was valid, it showed that Cooper’s blood had been planted on the t-shirt, just as Cooper maintained.”
Falsified lab reports- A drop of blood was taken from the crime scene, labeled “A-41,” and tested by police criminologist Daniel Gregonis. According to five federal judges, “[w]hen the results of Gregonis’s tests on A-41 were initially inconsistent with...a known sample of Cooper’s blood, Gregonis altered his lab notes and claimed that he had misrepresented his results.”
Presenting false evidence- Trying to tie Cooper to the crime scene, prosecutors presented evidence that has now been shown to be false: that only prison-issue shoes could have made footprints at the crime scene. As five federal judges found, these shoes “were, contrary to testimony at trial, available (though not in large quantities) at retail stores in the United States.”
Police misconduct - Deputy William Baird was the manager of the lab where the sheet was kept when the shoeprint was discovered. He testified that he already had a Pro-Ked Dude shoe in his lab, which he matched to the print on the sheet. Soon after Cooper’s trial, Baird was caught stealing five pounds of heroin from the evidence locker at the Crime Laboratory. He stole the heroin both for his personal use and to sell to drug dealers.