The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

After protests, courts stay the execution of Kevin Cooper
– but for how long?

Feb 16, 2004

On February 8, a federal appeals court in California stayed the execution of Kevin Cooper just a few hours before it was scheduled. The court called for a new testing of the blood evidence which was used to convict Cooper of the murder of two adults and two children in 1983. The stay of the execution was finalized when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn the decision.

Everything indicates that Kevin Cooper not only didn't commit the murders, but was framed by the authorities.

One of the few pieces of evidence that the prosecution used against Cooper were shoe prints at the crime scene, which matched shoes worn by prisoners (Cooper had escaped from a prison in the area shortly before the murders took place). What the prosecutors hid from everyone, however, was the statement of a prison warden that the same type of shoes could be bought by anyone at Sears. This alone should have been enough reason for the trial to be annulled as unfair. But courts rejected Cooper's appeals.

In fact, there is ample evidence supporting Cooper's innocence of the murders. One of the victims was found clutching blond hairs (Cooper is black and has black hair). Two white men wearing bloody clothes were seen at a bar near the victims' house shortly after the murders. The former girlfriend of one of the men said she had seen him coming home that night in bloody coveralls. And the only survivor of the attack, the then eight-year-old Josh Ryen, twice testified that there were three attackers, and that they were white or Hispanic. Josh changed his testimony at the trial and said that he had only seen a shadow – after he had spent a good deal of time with the police, including living at the home of a detective for a while.

In addition, Cooper's lawyers have obtained a statement by a former police informant, Albert Ruiz, that the murders were "a hit on the wrong family on that hill," and that "they literally dropped the load off on Cooper." Ruiz later backed off some of the statements he made, but a journalist who had covered the case in 1985 testified that Ruiz had told her in 1997 that Cooper didn't commit the murders and that the police were told to plant evidence against Cooper.

Five of the twelve jurors have said that they wouldn't have voted to convict Cooper if they had known about all this evidence. But all this didn't prevent Cooper's appeals from being rejected – including a clemency request which was turned down by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who claimed that the evidence against Cooper was "overwhelming."

The evidence is overwhelming alright – of his innocence. Last year, blood samples that had been used as evidence against Cooper were found to contain Cooper's DNA. But Cooper's defense wants these samples to be tested also for EDTA, a chemical used as a preservative. If significant amounts of EDTA are found in the blood samples, that will show that the blood was indeed put in and around the crime scene by the police. As one of the judges who voted to stay Cooper's execution said, "Cooper is either guilty as sin or he was framed by the police. There is no middle ground."

The authorities force an innocent man to live on Death Row for 18 years – and they almost execute him – in order to cover a frame-up, perhaps even to cover for the actual murderers.

It certainly wouldn't be the first time. In recent years, dozens of Death Row inmates have been exonerated after their innocence was proven by independent investigators. Many of these people were also shown to have been framed by the authorities. Last year, these findings led the former Governor of Illinois to commute all death sentences in that state.

The protests against, and the publicity about, the case of Kevin Cooper in recent weeks seem to have stopped his execution – for now. But the legal battle to overturn his death sentence and to win his freedom is far from won.