Violent Crime

*U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Kevin Cooper Appeal In Quadruple Murder Death Penalty Case

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A death row inmate who came within hours of being executed in 2004 for four murders committed in San Bernardino County in 1983 lost a renewed  appeal to a federal appeals court in San Francisco today. The action by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals brings Kevin Cooper, 51, a step closer to completing his current appeal and, if he is unsuccessful in the appeal, to receiving a new execution date.  Cooper’s attorney, Norman Hile, said he will now appeal to the
U.S. Supreme Court, a process that could take several months. Senior Assistant California Attorney General Ronald Matthias said that if that appeal fails, Cooper would then be eligible to receive a new execution date. Cooper was convicted in 1985 of murdering two adults and two children at a ranch house in Chino Hills on June 4, 1983, by hacking and stabbing them. He had escaped from a nearby state prison two days before.  The victims were Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and an 11-year-old houseguest, Christopher Hughes. Another family member, 8-year-old Josh Ryen, was attacked but survived. In today’s action, the federal appeals court declined to have an expanded 11-judge panel reconsider a decision in which a three-judge panel of  the same court affirmed Cooper’s conviction in 2007.  The smaller panel, saying that evidence of Cooper’s guilt was”overwhelming,” accepted conclusions of a federal trial judge in San Diego who found that additional tests on hair and a blood stain did not exonerate Cooper. The tests were ordered by the appeals court in a ruling on Feb. 9, 2004, the day before Cooper was scheduled to be executed at San Quentin State Prison. The decision not to reconsider the case was made by an apparently close vote of the appeals court’s 27 fulltime judges.  Judge William Fletcher wrote in the lead dissent, “The state of California may be about to execute an innocent man.” Fletcher said he believed that sheriff’s investigators eager to solve a horrible crime had manipulated and planted some of the evidence. But Judge Pamela Rymer, supporting the decision to deny the appeal, wrote that all the evidence claims in the case had been resolved against Cooper either at trial or in post-conviction proceedings over 24 years. She wrote, “No forensic evidence suggests that anyone else was at the scene of the crime or was the killer.”  Executions in California have been on hold since 2006, when a federal judge in San Jose ruled that the state’s previous lethal injection
procedure carried a risk of causing inmates severe pain. Matthias said the state is now circulating a new execution protocol for public comment and the approval process may be completed in several months. He said that if Cooper loses his current appeal, he would be given an execution date after the new protocol is approved.  Five or six other death row inmates have completed all appeals and are eligible to receive execution dates, Matthias said.

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