Kevin Cooper Files for Court Re-Hearing

by Rebecca Doran

The case of innocent African American San Quentin death row inmate, Kevin Cooper, has carved out over the last two decades a clear image of the terror the U.S. “criminal justice” system unleashes on its poor, and predominately Black and Brown citizens.

To the state of California, overwhelming evidence of Cooper’s innocence is not enough to stop the campaign to end his life by lethal injection. This evidence includes a statement by the lone surviving victim of the 1983 Ryen family murders, who said that three white men committed the crime. It also includes written declarations of patrons of a neighborhood bar near the murder scene who claim they were startled when on the night of the murders, three strange white men wearing blood-spattered clothing had to be kicked out of the bar.

The evidence also includes a long-hidden police log, which clearly states that three young men were seen driving the victims’ car from the murder scene. But, on Dec. 4, 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit issued a decision to deny Cooper
relief on 10 important claims that had been argued in the appeals court on Jan. 9, 2007.

The court’s decision to deny Cooper relief is outrageous. Although she concurred in the decision, Judge McKeown, one of the three 9th Circuit judges stated: “Significant evidence bearing on Cooper’s culpability has been lost, destroyed or left unpursued, including, for example, blood-covered coveralls belonging to a potential suspect who was a convicted murderer, and a bloody t-shirt, discovered alongside the road near the crime scene. The managing criminologist in charge of the evidence used to establish Cooper’s guilt at trial was, as it turns out, a heroin addict, and was fired for stealing drugs seized by the police.

“Countless other alleged problems with the handling and disclosure of evidence and the integrity of the forensic testing and investigation undermine confidence in the evidence.”

However, Judge McKeown went on to say: “Despite the presence of serious questions as to the integrity of the investigation and evidence supporting the conviction, we are constrained by the requirements of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.”

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), signed by President Bill Clinton, was an attack on the most basic civil rights of inmates. The
AEDPA strictly limits the right to relief in federal courts, eliminating the possibility of relief to many inmates on issues such as police misconduct and constitutional violations.

And according to Mckeown, despite the case of overwhelming doubt to Kevin Cooper’s guilt: “The habeas process does not account for lingering doubt or new evidence that cannot leap the clear and convincing hurdle of AEDPA.”

In January, Kevin Cooper filed a petition for a rehearing in front of an 11-judge panel in the 9th Circuit. If Cooper is granted this rehearing, a new criminal trial could be ordered, or his case could be sent back to a state court for further review. If Cooper is denied the rehearing in the 9th Circuit, he will likely be sent to San Quentin’s execution chamber, unless an unlikely intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court halts the legal lynching. The court should issue its decision by mid February.

The case of Kevin Cooper, who is seen worldwide as a victim of a racist police frame-up, has sparked international outrage and has mobilized abolitionists
in far corners of the globe. And it is likely that an order by the courts to send Cooper to the execution chamber would ignite a movement in streets that could shake the very foundations of an already weakened system of capital punishment.

The movement to free Kevin Cooper is growing, but it has to redouble its efforts and win many new supporters in order to win a swift victory in this important fight for freedom. Free Kevin Cooper! Abolish the racist death penalty!