Incarceration Nation

Conclusive Evidence

Kevin Cooper is Innocent

Excerpts of a Letter to California Governor Brown

Patrick O’Connor, the author of Scapegoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper, Strategic Media Books, 2012, said, in a letter to California Governor, Jerry Brown, “When I began researching the case in 2009, I had no preconceived notions about Kevin Cooper’s guilt or innocence.” After researching the case for three years, he concluded: “One thing became clear to me as I read and annotated the trial transcript, all the police reports, witness statements, and various newspaper accounts: For reasons I will never know, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department—and in turn the county district attorney and his staff chose early on to scapegoat Kevin Cooper for the most horrific crime in the county’s history—the brutal murders of Doug and Peggy Ryen and their daughter Jessica, the near murder of their son, Josh, and the murder of their child guest, Christopher Hughes. To do this they had to ignore a mountain of evidence that pointed to three white perpetrators. What amazes me to this day is that the Sheriff’s Department could have solved this case within the first week if it had not by then fixated on convicting Kevin Cooper.”

These are the specific facts cited by O’Connor that support his conclusion of Kevin Cooper’s innocence:

“Josh Ryen, the 8-year-old lone survivor of this massacre, informed hospital staff the assailants were three or four white men. In another emergency room interview, he communicated the same to a deputy sheriff. 

“The next day, a couple informed the Sheriff’s Department that late on the night of the murders they had seen a station wagon barreling down the only road that led away from the Ryens’ house with three or four white men in it. It turns out that the Ryens station wagon had been stolen that night. One of the Ryens neighbors also saw the station wagon being driven away around midnight. 

“Around midnight on the night of the murders, three white men entered the Canyon Corral Bar, about a mile-and-a-half from the Ryens’ house. Two of the men were wearing clothes that were blood splattered. One was identified by a witness in the bar as wearing a blue shirt, the other bloody coveralls. Both wore tennis shoes.

“The day after the murders were discovered, a blood-stained blue shirt was spotted on the side of the road by a citizen as she drove a block or so past the Canyon Corral Bar on Peyton Road. A deputy was dispatched to collect this blue shirt, and the Sheriff’s Department log reflects that it was taken into custody. 

“The next day, as a result of a search of the area, Sheriff deputies found a blood-stained tan T-shirt on the other side of Peyton Road, not far from the Canyon Corral Bar. This shirt was Fruit-of-the Loom, size medium, with a front pocket. 

“On June 9, 1983, four days after the murders were discovered—and the very day San Bernardino County Sheriff Floyd Tidwell announced a warrant for Kevin Cooper’s arrest as the sole perpetrator of the Chino Hills slayings—a woman named Diana Roper, believing that her live-in boyfriend, Lee Furrow, had been involved in the Chino Hills murders, turned over bloodstained coveralls to a Sheriff’s Department deputy.  Roper said her boyfriend, a convicted murderer, had returned pre-dawn the night of the murders to change out of the coveralls. She told the deputy she had other information to divulge but wanted to speak to a homicide detective. No homicide detective ever called her. What Roper wanted to tell homicide was that when Furrow arrived at her home late that night he was no longer wearing the tan T-shirt and jeans he had worn earlier that afternoon to a music festival. She remembered that the tan T-shirt was Fruit-of-the-Loom, medium size with a pocket in front. She remembered it so distinctly because she had recently bought it for him. A few days later she informed the Sheriffs Department that Furrow’s hatchet was missing but that all of his other work tools were still hanging on nails in a washroom of her house.

“Twice during his stay in the hospital, Josh Ryen saw a photo of Kevin Cooper on the TV set in his room. The first time, Josh Ryen told the deputy guarding him that the man pictured was not one of his attackers; the second time, a few days later, he told his grandmother the same thing.

“According to the County medical examiner’s report, the massacre in the Ryens’ master bedroom lasted at least four minutes and was perpetrated with a hatchet, two knives, and an ice pick. (He said two knives because of the differences in the knife wounds he observed. Later, at a preliminary hearing, he was induced by the district attorney to say that only one knife had been involved.) The idea that one assailant would or could wield three (or four) separate weapons was counterintuitive in the extreme. The autopsy reports stated that more than 140 wounds, 28 fractures, and two amputations were inflicted on the four murder victims. It is inconceivable that a lone assailant could have wreaked this much physical trauma, while at the same time switching weapons, in so short a time.

“Both Ryen adults were fit, 41-year-old chiropractors. Kevin Cooper, although over 6-feet tall, weighed approximately 150 pounds in 1983. Doug Ryen, who was six-foot-two and 187 pounds, had been an MP in the U.S. Marine Corps. During the attack, Doug Ryen’s arterial blood was sprayed on the opposite side of the bedroom where his body was found, indicating he had made it on foot from one side of the bed to the other and then back to his own side. It had taken 37 hatchet and knife assaults to subdue him. Both his arms bore defensive wounds. A finger on his right hand had been severed with such force that it was propelled into a bedroom closet.

“Peggy Ryen, who was five-foot-eight and weighed 140 pounds, trained Arabian horses at the ranch, controlling these enormous animals with a rope. She could throw a 50-pound bale of hay in the back of a pickup truck. She sustained 17 hatchet wounds to her forehead, face and chest and four separate knife wounds to her chest. She, too, had resisted the attack; she had stab wounds on fingers of both hands and her left forearm.

“Both Ryen adults had loaded guns within reach of their bed in the master bedroom. While a lone assailant had been attacking Doug Ryen, Peggy Ryen could have shot him dead. As Peggy’s mother said, Doug and Peggy were both fighters; they just didn’t stand still and say kill me next. 

“Jessica Ryen, the ten-year-old daughter, made it outside the house during the attack before being murdered in her parents’ bedroom. This fact alone, considering some of Jessica’s hair was found on her mother’s body, demonstrated that more than one assailant had to be involved.

“Jessica died with a clump of blond or light brown hair clutched in her fingers. Of all the victims she sustained the most wounds, 46, and had the most defensive type wounds to her hands and arms.

“Lee Furrow was an associate of Clarence Ray Allen, the last man put to death by the State of California. Furrow was convicted in the 1974 murder of Mary Sue Kitts. Furrow admitted strangling the 17-year-old, hacking her up and throwing her body parts into a canal with stones tied to them. Furrow turned state’s witness and testified that Allen had ordered him to murder Kitts. For this Furrow was allowed to plead to second-degree murder. He served four-and-a-half years and was released from prison in June of 1982.  A year later the Ryens and Chris Hughes were murdered.”

Note: The above quotes are from a letter dated October 2015 from Patrick O’Connor to Governor Brown in support of clemency for Kevin Cooper. O’Connor is also the author of The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Lawrence Hill Books, 2008.