The U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition today filed by Death Row inmate Kevin Cooper seeking intervention in his decades-old murder case.
Cooper was convicted of murder and sentenced to death nearly 25 years ago for the brutal 1983 ax killings in Chino Hills of a married couple, their daughter, and a houseguest.
Cooper, 51, claims he is innocent and has accused law enforcement of framing him.
Forensic tests were performed on evidence in his case after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay on Cooper’s execution the day it was set to be carried out in 2004.
The tests failed to exonerate him, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Cooper’s request this year for additional testing.
The lower court’s ruling was upheld today with the Supreme Court’s rejection of Cooper’s appeal.
Even though Cooper’s bid to the Supreme Court has now failed, he still has legal avenues to challenge his conviction and further delay execution, said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson in an interview last month.
Cooper and his legal team can continue to investigate his case to potentially uncover new evidence on which to base a new appeal.
And if California officials find a method of lethal injection they believe passes Constitutional muster, Cooper or other inmates can sue to challenge the legality of the execution method, Levenson said.
Executions have been on hold in the state since 2006 because of concern that the state’s lethal injection method is inhumane.
In June 1983, Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their daughter Jessica, 10, and houseguest Christopher Hughes, 11, died after they each suffered at least 20 wounds at the hands of their attacker. Joshua Ryen, then 8, survived the attack despite a slit throat and other injuries.
On the night of the attacks, Cooper had recently escaped from the California Institution for Men state prison in Chino. He was hiding out in a home adjacent to the Ryens’ property at the time of the killings.
Cooper has been linked to the killings through DNA and other forensic evidence found in the Ryens’ house, the house where Cooper admitted he was hiding, and in a car that was stolen from the Ryens’ home.
Cooper has accused law enforcement in San Bernardino County of planting evidence to frame him for the killings.
In its opposition to Cooper’s Supreme Court petition, the state Attorney General’s office called Cooper’s innocence claims “absurd.”
“His inability to prove his innocence stems from the fact that he is so plainly guilty,” state attorneys wrote. “Further review of (Cooper’s) highly fact-bound case is unwarranted.”
This afternoon, attorney general spokesman Even Westrup said: “Our office believes that the state and federal courts acted properly, and therefore today’s denial is appropriate.”
In a news release following the Supreme Court’s announcement, Cooper’s lead attorney called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to initiate a federal investigation into Cooper’s claims of evidence tampering and prosecutorial misconduct.
The attorney, Norman Hile, urged witnesses with information on Cooper’s case to come forward.
“Time is running out,” Hile said. “Many witnesses have come forward with helpful evidence, but we now need more. Anyone with information about this case should examine their conscience and ask whether they are willing to let their silence contribute to the execution of a man for crimes he did not commit.”
Cooper’s legal team also highlighted a 103-page opinion written this year by a federal judge who dissented in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ rejection of Cooper’s request for additional testing.
Circuit Judge William A. Fletcher said the state “may be about to execute an innocent man” and blasted the review of evidence in Cooper’s case. His dissent was joined by four other judges.
Cooper’s legal team accused police and prosecutors today of destroying evidence, planting false evidence, failing to turn over evidence favorable to Cooper, falsifying lab reports, and other misconduct.
“We need a federal investigation to get to the bottom of this and stop the killing of an innocent man,” Hile said in the news release.