by Rebecca Doran / October 2006 issue of Socialist Action Newspaper
In August the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision that will allow a public hearing on all 10 appeals filed by San Quentin Prison death-row inmate Kevin Cooper. The hearings will be held on Jan. 9, 2007, at 1:30 p.m.*
Cooper supporters should fill the courtroom to let the justices view for themselves the growing numbers of abolitionists who are demanding an end to America’s vicious death machine.
Cooper, an African American, was sent to San Quentin’s condemned row in 1985 on trumped-up charges that held him responsible for what has become known as the 1983 Chino Hills, Calif., Massacre. Despite an expert’s opinion that it would have been virtually impossible for one person to commit this carnage, and overwhelming evidence that the murders were committed by three white men, Cooper was tried and convicted in the midst of a racist San Diego circus.
The scene surrounding the courthouse included a toy gorilla hung in effigy from a noose, and signs that read, “Hang the African troglodyte. “ Nearby graffiti read, “Hang the nigger!” News of the 9th Circuit’s decision to hear Cooper’s appeals was well received by supporters, who have spent years fighting for a hearing through which this racist police frame-up could be exposed.
In February 2004 Cooper was scheduled to die by lethal injection in San Quentin’s execution chamber, but a last-minute emergency panel of 11 Ninth Circuit judges halted the execution. Their order cited certain pieces of evidence that would have to be tested before the court would feel comfortable sending Cooper to the gurney.
No doubt, the independent, international mass movement that rose up against the scheduled execution had weighed in on the judges’ decision to halt the legal lynching.
The stay of execution by the 9th Circuit remanded Cooper’s case back to the U.S. District Courtroom of the reactionary judge Marilyn Huff, who heard a sea of new evidence in favor of Cooper’s innocence. This evidence included DNA testing, as well as proof that the only piece of evidence that convicted Cooper at the criminal trial was based on a lie.
However, Judge Huff denied every one of Cooper’s claims without room for discussion. Cooper’s aim in the upcoming hearings in the 9th Circuit will be to overrule Huff’s racist rulings.
The 10 issues constituting the claims that will be heard in the 9th Circuit in January are as follows: (1) Whether Judge Huff’s district court abused its discretion by denying motions for discovery, forensic testing, and evidentiary hearings; (2) Cooper’s actual claim of innocence; (3) whether the state contaminated or tampered with evidence; (4) whether the government failed to disclose material exculpatory evidence; (5) whether the recent testimony of Josh Ryen, the young survivor of the massacre, was unreliable or altered; (6) whether the bloody coveralls turned over to police by a woman who suspected her boyfriend of the murders were destroyed by police in violation of Cooper’s constitutional rights (7) whether counsel was ineffective in failing to present evidence of a confession by another inmate (8) whether counsel was ineffective in failing to connect the bloody coveralls to Lee Furrow, a convicted murderer who was connected to the inmate who confessed (and later recanted the confession); (9) whether counsel was ineffective in failing to introduce evidence of hair not matching Kevin Cooper’s in a victim’s hands; and (10) whether Cooper’s constitutional rights were violated by cumulative error and misconduct.
Both the defense and prosecution have been granted only 30 minutes each to argue their case in front of a three-judge panel, two of whom have already ruled against Cooper in the past. If Cooper’s legal team is successful, the case could be sent right back to Judge Huff or the courtroom of a judge deemed less prejudiced by the 9th Circuit.
It is also possible that Cooper could be granted a new criminal trial, or even freedom, based on a ruling that he has been denied his constitutional rights. However, if Cooper loses in the 9th Circuit, a new death warrant will be signed—tentative to the outcome of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court—and Cooper would most likely face death by lethal injection.
The outcome of these hearings will rest heavily on the shoulders of the movement. Kevin Cooper will either walk out of San Quentin as a free man and much-loved member of the struggle against oppression, or he will be sent in shackles to the execution chamber.
The movement that grew around Stan Tookie Williams’ execution put the state of California on the defensive, and Big Took’s appalling fate only continues to seep into the collective attitude of America’s working class towards the so-called justice system.
The time is now for that movement to swell and move back into the streets with demands to free Kevin Cooper and end the racist death penalty; it should strike while the iron is hot and force California”s crumbling legal system off its deadly throne.
Free Kevin Cooper! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! End the death penalty!