Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Federal judge William A. Fletcher recently told the Gonzaga University School of Law that Kevin Cooper, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the brutal 1983 slaying of Chino Hills, Calif., chiropractors Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and 11-year-old house guest Christopher Hughes, is "probably" innocent. Cooper, Fletcher added, is "on Death Row because the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department framed him."
The San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof have seized on Fletcher's remarks. The Chronicle editorialized for Cooper's sentence to be commuted to a life sentence without the possibility of parole. They may mean well, but they play a dangerous game in arguing that this violent career criminal may not be guilty -- because that really means he should be free.
I'll grant that the 1983 investigation by San Bernardino law enforcement may not meet the forensics standards of a big-city "CSI" episode. But a jury convicted Cooper because of overwhelming evidence that he had escaped from the California Institution for Men at Chino, holed up in a house next to the Ryen home for two days, killed the parents as they slept, killed the children afterward, then took off in the Ryens' car and escaped to Mexico.
Over the years, elements of the story have led some to doubt Cooper's guilt. At the hospital, 8-year-old Josh Ryen, whose throat was slit, said he believed three white guys killed his family. He later implicated Cooper as the killer. Authorities found more than one murder weapon -- a hatchet, an ice pick and a knife or knives. Doubts led former Pomona cop Paul Ingels to become a private investigator for Cooper's post-conviction appeals. "I'm a fact-finder," Ingels told me. "I fought hard to get him DNA testing.
"Unfortunately, the DNA came back, and it just locked in his guilt," Ingels noted.
Cooper, who according to court records escaped from juvenile and adult jails some 12 times, is nothing if not persistent. So he came up with a new story -- that he had been framed. The Cooper legal team argued that it could prove that authorities had framed Cooper by showing that a chemical was on the blood/saliva samples. Thing is, that chemical is found in soap, detergent and hand creams. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals denied Cooper's appeal.
Dr. Edward T. Blake boasts that he has been involved in "more post-conviction exonerations than anybody in the world," and he worked for Cooper's defense.
As a professional, Blake doesn't appreciate others trying to game DNA testing.
I asked, "Is Cooper guilty?" "Yeah, he's guilty," Blake answered, "as determined by the trial and the failure of a very extensive post-conviction investigation to prove otherwise."
Blake also doesn't appreciate that the judge's conspiracy theory outrageously accuses and condemns law enforcement officials without an investigation or a trial.
Worse, to buy into Fletcher's theory, you have to believe that as far back as 1983, the local constabulary had the foresight to plant Cooper's blood in the Ryen home, his saliva in the car and also found a way to put Cooper's DNA on a T-shirt with a victim's DNA -- even though prosecutors didn't present the T-shirt at trial. That is, you have to believe everything but the evidence.
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See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders.
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.
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