February 14, 2018 – Press Release: Law School Deans urge Governor Jerry Brown to act affirmatively on Kevin Cooper’s pending clemency petition.
In an unprecedented plea to a governor to grant clemency to a prisoner on death row, four California law school deans have urged California’s Governor Jerry Brown to undertake an innocence investigation before condemned prisoner Kevin Cooper is executed. In a letter delivered today to Brown’s office in Sacramento, the four deans, Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California School of law, Michael Waterstone of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, Lisa V. Kloppenberg of Santa Clara School of Law and John Trasvina of the University of San Francisco School of Law, state that:
“It is imperative that the full and fair evaluation of Mr. Cooper’s innocence claim be conducted as soon as possible.”
In their letter, the deans ask the governor to order an innocence investigation for Cooper, who is African American, noting that he has always maintained his innocence. The deans note that Cooper’s innocence claim has “never been fully and fairly evaluated,” citing conclusions in 9th Circuit Judge William Fletcher’s 2009 dissent, which ten other 9th Circuit judges joined. The deans refer to the “racially biased investigation and coverup by the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, woefully inadequate legal representation at his trial and an appellate process that makes innocence claims virtually incapable of succeeding.” They also point to the fact that there is scientifically reliable testing that can “resolve the innocence question” and point to parallels with Gov. Brown’s recent grant of clemency to Craig Coley, whom Brown pardoned in November 2017 after DNA testing exonerated him. The deans now ask the governor to give Mr. Cooper “the same opportunity.”
Cooper, who has been on death row for thirty three years and came within three hours and forty-two minutes of execution in 2004, filed his current clemency petition with the governor two years ago this week. However, the governor has failed to take any action on it during that time.
Cooper was convicted and sentenced to death in 1985 for the slaying of Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their daughter Jessica and houseguest Christopher Hughes. Cooper maintains he was framed by the SBSD and that an investigation, including state of the art DNA testing, will show he is innocent. Judge Fletcher has publicly stated that Cooper was framed by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. In 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an agency of the Organization of American States, issued a report on Cooper’s case after a four year study of it which found multiple human rights violations and requested that Cooper be given the same relief in the form of an innocence investigation that his clemency petition now requests.
February 17, 2016, – Clemency Petition filed with Governor Edmund G. Brown on behalf of Kevin Cooper.
“A wealth of evidence shows that persons other than Mr. Cooper committed the murders for which he was sentenced to death. Advanced forensic testing is now available that could show that Mr. Cooper is innocent of these crimes, but the State refuses to permit it. Given the fundamental questions that persist in this case – as recognized by the original jurors, at least twelve federal appellate judges, two former prosecutors and several law enforcement professionals – the Governor cannot in good conscience allow Mr. Cooper to be executed without initiating or permitting a search for the truth, including ensuring that the necessary forensic testing be completed.”
“The investigation of the Ryen murders was headed by Sheriff Tidwell and performed by the members of the SBSD whose prior and subsequent actions and corrupt culture suggested they would bend and even break the rules as necessary to convict a black man, particularly one who had recently escaped from prison, for the murder of a white family.”
Read the Petition: