Jewish World Review Feb. 2, 2004 / 10 Shevat, 5764
Debra J. Saunders
Follow the DNA
"Two years ago, (San Quentin Death-Row inmate
Kevin) Cooper offered to drop his appeals and submit
to execution if the DNA tests point to his guilt" in four
first-degree murder convictions for the 1983 slayings
of chiropractors Peggy Ryen, Douglas Ryen, their
10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and their son's best
friend, 11-year-old Christopher Hughes, the
(Riverside) Press Enterprise reported in 2000.
Lo and behold, in May 2001, the state agreed to DNA
tests and they ended up providing more proof that
Cooper killed Hughes and the Ryens, then left
8-year-old Joshua Ryen with a slit throat that
somehow didn't kill him.
Despite his declaration, no surprise, Cooper still is
appealing. His latest set of lawyers have asked Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant Cooper clemency, or
a reprieve of his scheduled Feb. 10 execution so that
other tests that also are supposed to exonerate
Cooper can be conducted.
This is a crime that never should have happened. It
occurred after Cooper escaped from a Pennsylvania
institution, then raped a teenage girl who interrupted
him during a burglary. Cooper fled to California where
he was arrested for two more burglaries. In June
1983, Cooper escaped a minimum- security facility,
then hid for two days in an empty Chino Hills home
that overlooked the Ryens' house. Prosecutors
believe Cooper committed the murders so that he
could steal their car, which turned up in Long Beach,
as he escaped to Mexico.
During his 1985 trial, Cooper testified he had never
entered the Ryen house. But the DNA tests showed
that blood found in the home was his. Cooper had
testified that he didn't drive the Ryen car. But
investigators found Cooper's DNA on cigarette butts
found in the Ryen car. Cooper's DNA was linked to
blood found on a T-shirt, along with DNA from
So now Cooper's advocates want to test for EDTA, a
preservative used in test-tube blood, to see if police
tampered with the evidence. Cooper's legal team also
has called for testing of hairs found in Jessica Ryen's
clenched hand. The blond hairs are supposed to
prove Cooper, who is black, did not kill the Ryens.
But Senior Assistant Attorney General Dane Gillette
points out that none of the hairs "were pulled out of a
head. They're cut hair. A lot of them are animal hair."
Cooper's boosters point to early statements by
Joshua Ryen that three men committed the crimes.
Jurors heard the three-man theory, but decided to
follow the evidence. Now some jurors have second
thoughts. But when the case was fresh, they were
A 1991 California Supreme Court ruling summed up
the case against Cooper: "It is utterly unreasonable to
suppose that by coincidence, some hypothetical real
killer chose this night and this locale to kill; that he
entered (the neighbor's) house just after defendant
left to retrieve the murder weapons, leaving the
hatchet sheath in the bedroom defendant used; that
he returned to the (neighbor's) house to shower; that
he drove the Ryen station wagon in the same
direction defendant used on his way to Mexico; and
that he happened to wear prison issue tennis shoes
like those of the defendant, happened to have the
defendant's blood type, happened to have hair like the
defendant's, happened to roll cigarettes with the
same distinctive prison issued tobacco, and so forth."
That was the case before the DNA tests.
Cooper's lawyers' best argument is: What is the harm
in conducting an EDTA test? Prosecutor Gillette notes
problems with EDTA testing that came out during the
O.J. Simpson case.
Milt Silverman, who represents Joshua Ryen, scoffed
at the notion that police framed Cooper. "You mean
before they went and took the picture (of the blood) in
the hallway, they got Cooper's blood somehow. How
could it be planted on the wall?" he asked.
Then there's the fact that if the test implicates Cooper
again that inconvenient fact won't matter again.
At an editorial board meeting, I asked Cooper's
lawyers if they would believe that Cooper is guilty and
should be executed if the EDTA test shows no
tampering. No one said yes, even to the first half of
No incriminating evidence matters to them. There's
always a new excuse.
They ask me: What motive did Cooper have to kill four
I ask them: What motive did he have to rape a
teenager? And why would anyone kill the Ryens?
Cooper's supporters are so credulous, they wrote in a
letter to Schwarzenegger, "It is imperative to note that
it was Kevin Cooper who years after his conviction
insisted on DNA testing. Mr. Cooper's request
strongly suggests his belief in his innocence."
Hey, why not? With this crowd, Cooper had nothing to
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© 2003, Creators Syndicate