Report: California man’s guilt ‘conclusive’ in 1983 slayings

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An independent review of California death row inmate Kevin Cooper’s conviction found that evidence of his guilt was “extensive and conclusive” in the 1983 stabbing deaths of four people, including two children, at a suburban Los Angeles home.

Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the investigation in 2021 following years of Cooper’s pleas for clemency. The case had garnered national attention from people including now-Vice President Kamala Harris and reality star Kim Kardashian. The independent investigators’ report was released Friday.

Cooper, 65, maintained he was framed by investigators whom, he alleged, planted his blood on a T-shirt found by the side of a road leading away from the scene of the murders. He was originally scheduled for execution in 2004.

“Cooper has not established his claim that he is innocent,” the report said.

The reviewers also wrote “there is no reasonable possibility that more investigation beyond what has already been conducted in this matter could affect the conclusion that evidence of Cooper’s guilt is conclusive.”

Cooper was convicted of a 1983 attack in Chino Hills, east of Los Angeles. Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 8-year-old son, Joshua, were attacked in their sleep along with an 11-year-old neighbor, Christopher Hughes, who was a houseguest. Investigators said they were stabbed more than 140 times with an ice pick, knife and hatchet.

Joshua’s throat was slashed, but he survived.

San Bernardino County prosecutors said previous DNA tests showed that Cooper, who had escaped from a prison two days before the slayings, was in the Ryen home and smoked cigarettes in the family’s stolen station wagon, and that Cooper’s blood and the blood of at least one victim was on a T-shirt. That T-shirt, and the DNA Cooper claimed was planted on it, was a central part of Cooper’s argument for his innocence.

The case attracted national interest after The New York Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristof, Harris, then a U.S. senator for California, and Kardashian urged officials to allow re-testing, which Newsom and former Gov. Jerry Brown ordered to be done.

Cooper’s attorney, Norman Hile, and the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday evening regarding the new report.

“We are confident in the results of the independent investigation, and satisfied this case has been thoroughly and meticulously reviewed,” Vicky Waters, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in a statement.

Newsom did not take a position on Cooper’s guilt or innocence, or whether to grant him clemency, when he ordered the review. Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions in 2019.

His communications director, Erin Mellon, released a statement Friday acknowledging the report and its finding that “Mr. Cooper’s guilt is ‘extensive and conclusive.’”

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