Sheriff’s deputies were also contacted by the woman whose boyfriend was a convicted murderer, recently released from prison, whom she suspected of involvement in the Ryen killings. She not only gave deputies his bloody coveralls but also told them that his hatchet was missing from his tool rack and resembled one of the weapons reportedly used in the attacks.
But instead of testing the coveralls for the Ryens’ blood, the deputies threw them away–and pursued Cooper. After a racially charged trial, he was convicted of murdering the Ryens and Chris Hughes and is now on death row at San Quentin Prison.
Gov. Jerry Brown is refusing to allow advanced DNA testing that might finally resolve the question of who committed the murders, even though Cooper’s defense would pay for it. Brown refuses to allow even advanced testing of the blond or brown hairs that were found in the victims’ hands.
This is the story of a broken justice system. It appears that an innocent man was framed by sheriff’s deputies and is on death row in part because of dishonest cops, sensational media coverage and flawed political leaders — including Democrats like Brown and Kamala Harris, the state attorney general before becoming a U.S. senator, who refused to allow newly available DNA testing for a black man convicted of hacking to death a beautiful white family and young neighbor. This was a failure at every level, and it should prompt reflection not just about one man on death row but also about profound inequities in our entire system of justice.
With a good defense, Cooper might have prevailed. But his county public defender was overwhelmed and made a series of practical legal mistakes.
“Kevin got convicted because they framed him and because he didn’t have a half-decent defense,” said Norman C. Hile, his current lawyer. Hile, now retired as a partner in the international law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, has volunteered on the case for the last 14 years because he fiercely believes in Cooper’s innocence.
This is a familiar pattern: Inmates have third-rate defenders at trial, but after they are sentenced to death they get the help of brilliant free counsel; by then it is often too late to undo the damage.