One DNA Test Could Free Kevin Cooper

The New York Times recently published an absolutely remarkable piece examining the pending execution of a potentially innocent man here in California.

I write about it here primarily with the hope that a few more people may read it as it is difficult to add much to such a remarkable reported piece.

To be clear, this is not merely the case of a small group of dedicated abolitionists making a last ditch effort to save Kevin Cooper’s life; this is real deal actual potential innocence.

Both a 30 year law enforcement veteran/former deputy head of the Los Angeles FBI and a federal Court of Appeals Judge on the 9th Circuit have stated categorically that Mr. Cooper is an innocent man who was framed.

Nicholas Kristof, the famed New York Times columnist writes that in his 34 years as a reporter he has never come across a case as outrageous as this one.

Numerous other people who do not spend their time fighting the death penalty or coming to the defense of condemned convicts have expressed grave doubts about the case. But the one person currently in a position to do something real to get to the bottom of what may be one of the most significant injustices in the history of our country refuses to.

That is Governor Jerry Brown who has stonewalled Mr. Cooper’s lawyers attempts to get more advanced DNA testing done that would potentially prove Mr. Cooper’s innocence. He has similarly refused pleas for clemency thus far.

Again, I urge you to read the article in its entirety, but here is a small taste of some of the glaring red flags in the case. The only survivor of the attack described 3-4 white male assailants. Kevin Cooper is a black man. Several white males were seen driving the slain family’s stolen vehicle and when the vehicle was recovered it had blood stains on the driver’s seat, passenger’s seat and back seat. Several white males were seen with blood on their clothes at a nearby bar that night. A woman whose boyfriend was a convicted killer contacted the police to say she suspected he was involved, gave them the bloody coveralls he had come home in on the night of the murders and told them that his hatchet, a suspected murder weapon, was missing. In response, the police threw the coveralls away. Much of the evidence against Mr. Cooper was discovered under very suspicious circumstances including some found by a lab technician who was later convicted of stealing heroin from the department. Oh, by the way, the Sheriff at the time was later convicted of stealing guns from the department.

Hopefully, I have piqued your interest. You can read the article here.

There are many issues and debates where I can understand the other side’s position even if I do not agree with it. This is not one of them. Why would anyone want to execute a person with all these questions pending? Why, when those questions could be answered by a test Mr. Cooper’s defense is willing to pay for, would anyone stand in the way?

The only answer I can imagine is that it would make the system look very bad and it would raise, again, huge questions about whether the death penalty is something we are comfortable with in a criminal justice system whose fallibility is increasingly understood. But these are questions we should be asking because they go the very heart of who we are as a society and what we are willing to tolerate in our name.

And, as always, the questions of race and class that plague our system are never far away. As Mr. Cooper puts it so bluntly: “I’m frameable, because I’m an uneducated black man in America. Sometimes it’s race, and sometimes it’s class.”