On Christmas Eve, Governor Jerry Brown granted 143 pardons and 131 commutations; but, he also ordered new DNA tests that could clear Kevin Cooper of involvement in a 35-year-old murder case, CBS News reports. Cooper was charged and convicted of killing four people with a hatchet in Chino Hills in 1983. However, he and his attorneys contend that evidence was planted and that a new DNA test will prove Cooper’s innocence. In the executive order, Brown writes:
“I take no position as to Mr. Cooper’s guilt or innocence at this time, but colorable factual questions have been raised about whether advances in DNA technology warrant limited retesting of certain physical evidence in this case.”
Governor Brown’s decision came in the wake of several public figures pushing for new tests, including U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, according to the article. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and California State Treasurer John Chiang are among the other notable figures imploring Brown to order new tests.
Cooper’s been on death row since 1985, but his scheduled execution in 2004 was stayed, the article reports. At the time, a federal appellate court deemed that a review of the scientific evidence was necessary; however, Cooper’s appeals have been rejected by both the California and U.S. Supreme Courts.
At the time of the quadruple homicide, Cooper was a convenient suspect—a black man who escaped from prison just 48 hours before the slayings of Doug and Peggy Ryen, 10-year-old Jessica Ryen, and 11-year-old Christopher Hughes who was a neighbor of the Ryen family. There may have been evidence that implicates another suspect, but a sheriff’s deputy destroyed it, according to CBS News correspondent Erin Moriarty. She has been following this case for two decades.
The ordered tests are meant to show whether DNA other than Cooper’s is on a tan T-shirt, orange towel, or the hatchet handle and sheath. A retired Los Angeles County Superior Court judge is acting as a special master overseeing the case.
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