Incarceration Nation

Kevin Cooper Wrongly Convicted

Organization of American States human rights report calls for new examination of Cooper death row case

On September 23, 2015, attorneys for Death Row inmate Kevin Cooper announced that they will ask Governor Jerry Brown to take action to grant a new trial for Cooper in the wake of a newly released report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The report found multiple violations of Cooper’s human rights during his prosecution, conviction and sentencing.

The 32-page IACHR report found eight separate instances of the denial of Cooper’s right to due process during his trial and subsequent appeals, including evidence mishandling, evidence destruction and evidence tampering by law enforcement and the prosecution.

The IACHR also found ineffective assistance by Cooper’s trial counsel, and held that Cooper was the victim of racism during evidence gathering, in his prosecution and in the imposition of the death penalty.

The report recommends that, in light of the violations, the United States “grant Kevin Cooper effective relief, including a review of his trial and sentence in accordance with the guarantees of due process and a fair trial...”

Cooper’s lawyers at Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe LLP intend to petition Brown to grant Cooper a new trial, which will include forensic testing that has not yet been allowed by the state. Cooper was convicted of four murders in Chino Hills, but much of the evidence presented in that trial has been questioned. His case has received national attention, from newspaper editorials to a recent episode of CNN’s “Death Row Stories.”

“Before an innocent man is executed, we urge Governor Brown to take the steps that the IACHR recommends: to review Mr. Cooper’s trial and sentence,’’ said Norman Hile, Senior Litigation Counsel at Orrick. “Mr. Cooper deserves the chance to prove that he is innocent.”

Opponents of the death penalty said the IACHR findings are yet another example of the problems with the death verdict.

“These findings show how it is possible for someone to spend 30 years on California’s death row longing for justice but being denied a fair hearing,’’ said Mike Farrell, who served for ten years as Co-Chair of the California Committee of Human Rights Watch and has served more than 20 years as President of Death Penalty Focus. Farrell is an actor widely known as a star of the iconic television series M*A*S*H.

The IACHR’s findings corroborate the conclusions of 11 judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009, who signed dissenting opinions to the denial of Cooper’s appeals. The appellate judges said that U.S. courts denied Cooper a fair opportunity to prove his innocence. The principle dissent was a lengthy opinion by federal appellate Judge William Fletcher that began: “The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man.”

Legal scholars said the IACHR findings should be respected.

“It is important to the United States’ credibility in North and South America, as well as to our moral and legal commitment to avoid executing an innocent person, to respect the IACHR’s recommendations to grant effective relief, including a full review of Mr. Cooper’s trial and sentence,” said Professor Linda Carter, a criminal law scholar and death penalty expert who teaches at University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. “Limitations in the U.S. judicial process have precluded a full examination of these violations on Mr. Cooper’s human rights.’’

In making its recommendations, the IACHR criticized the limitations created by a U.S. statute, the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which according to an opinion written in Cooper’s case by Ninth Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown in 2007, prevents federal judges from fully considering whether Cooper is factually innocent.

“The idea that it takes an international court to fully examine the facts of Kevin Cooper’s case and demand justice for him is appalling; the fact that Kevin Cooper has been deprived of justice for three decades is an embarrassment to our courts, the State of California and our nation,” Farrell added.

The IACHR report comes after a formal proceeding that lasted more than four years and included an extensive review of evidence, a full briefing by Cooper and government lawyers and a hearing before four IACHR commissioners in Washington, D.C., in October 2013.

A copy of the IACHR report can be found on line here:

Kevin Cooper is an innocent man on San Quentin’s Death Row in California. He continues to struggle for exoneration and to abolish the death penalty in the whole U.S.

Write to Kevin Cooper at:

Kevin Cooper C-65304, 4 EB 82

San Quentin State Prison

San Quentin, CA 94974