Death Row Inmate Wins DNA Tests in Famous 1983 Murders

California Gov. Jerry Brown orders the testing in Kevin Cooper case
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 25, 2018 10:11 AM CST
Updated Dec 29, 2018 4:10 PM CST
DNA Tests Ordered in Famous 1983 Murders
This undated file photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows inmate Kevin Cooper.   (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP, File)

A man awaiting execution on California's death row insists he's innocent in a gruesome 1983 murder case, and newly ordered DNA tests might finally resolve the matter. Gov. Jerry Brown, in one of his final acts in office, ordered authorities to test a T-shirt, towel, and hatchet collected as evidence after the murders of Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and 11-year-old neighbor Christopher Hughes, reports the Sacramento Bee. The Ryens' 8-year-old son survived the attack in Chino Hills. Kevin Cooper, now in his 60s, was convicted, but he and supporters including New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof maintain that police framed him.

“I take no position on Mr. Cooper’s guilt or innocence at this time,” said the governor. “But colorable factual questions have been raised about whether advances in DNA technology warrant limited retesting of certain physical evidence.” Cooper's legal team think police planted Cooper's blood on the evidence, and they hope the DNA test will turn up the blood of another person, perhaps someone in the state's criminal database, reports the AP. In Kristof's piece from several years ago, he wrote: "It appears that an innocent man was framed by sheriff’s deputies and is on death row in part because of dishonest cops, sensational media coverage and flawed political leaders." Among those he called out were Kamala Harris, then the state attorney general. Now a senator, Harris supports the new DNA tests. (Read more DNA evidence stories.)

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