We May Be Able to Get Kevin Cooper Off Death Row

California’s governor may permit a DNA test pointing to Cooper’s innocence.

Comments: 136

  1. Mr. Kristof, you are performing a tremendous service. As you said, he may be guilty, but in any case he (and anyone else in a similar situation) deserves the use of every modern investigative tool. I happen to favor capital punishment, but the burden of proof must be far, far higher than what is being used now. (There would be far fewer executions, but they would all be the result of unambiguous convictions.) Thank you for your help for this man and the criminal justice system.

  2. That’s a great comment. You expressed my sentiments almost exactly

  3. Thank you for your perseverance, Mr. Kristof. While I have no qualms about executing those who commit crimes of horror, I am against the death penalty for the reasons of human error and prejudice. It is unacceptable to me to execute even one innocent person.

  4. No person should be put to death at the hand of another for whatever reason. (especially since it is a mathematical lock that innocent people have been murdered by the state through capital punishment)

    Having said that, we as a society must decide once and for all if science (especially breakthroughs) is going to be applicable to all of our everyday lives and throughout our justice system.

    That has to do with our justice system, our educational system, our health services and research. - and of course it is going to have to be used in our climate calculations.

    Lastly, if we are going to use science for one type of justice, then it must be an equally priority for the victims of rape - who have their millions of kits sitting on a shelves waiting to be processed as well. (they deserve equal justice as any person waiting on death row)

    We must be consistent.

  5. Mr. Kristof, this reader thanks you wholeheartedly for your advocacy for both an apparently wronged man and a family that has been thoroughly savaged .

    It isn't enough that police shoot and kill black men--and boys--that is unconscionable. The injustices that are done to innocent men also apply to the victims of whom these atrocities become "collateral damage."

    It isn't easy reading about the massacre of the Ryen family. When I first read about the crime, my mind flashed back to the Manson murders of nigh on half a century ago. The mind-numbing senselessness of the bloodletting still chills my blood. A pregnant woman--actress Sharon Tate-- gutted by a gloating and grinning Susan Atkins, is something that is not easily forgotten.

    From all available reading, Kevin Cooper was not fitted up, emotionally or psychologically, to commit such a killing. I hope that Gov. Jerry Brown, a man who is usually keen to be seen on the cutting edge of progressive causes, will finally get over his reticence and allow DNA testing. And I remain appalled that Kamala Harris swallowed her whistle, apparently fearing white backlash as she contemplated a career outside of Sacramento.

    Even if the DNA evidence exonerates Mr. Cooper, it's doubtless that the real killers will ever be pursued, apprehended and prosecuted. The police expended much emotional capital to haul a presumably innocent man before the world as a killer, satisfying a nation's bloodlust.

    It's in America's DNA, one might say.

  6. Mr. Kristoff
    Your hard work and dedication is inspiring
    Please, never stop
    This is beyond horrific

  7. The evidence in Mr. Kristoff's earlier piece that the San Bernardino County Sheriff's office actually framed Kevin Cooper should chill the blood of anyone who believes in justice. If the DNA testing proves Cooper's innocence, Mr. Kristoff's efforts will not just have saved an innocent man but hopefully will also serve as a catalyst to force our law enforcement agencies to rout out racism and corruption throughout the country.

  8. I agree. This man has never had the chance to demonstrate conclusively that he is not the killer. That should be a given. Thank you for sticking with this. Probably one of the more important tasks you've taken on in your life.

  9. Human beings create myths to promote themselves all the time, often without realizing it. Unfortunately this becomes very dangerous when performed by DA's.

    In my life time there have been hundreds- probably thousands of highly dubious convictions in cases that couldn't be pried open because of DA's protecting their reputations and careers. The rash of outlandish child sexual abuse cases in pre-schools in the '80's comes to mind.

    In the history of the profession, has a DA ever publicly admitted to making a mistake?

    Horrifying stuff in itself. But what has taken Gov. Brown so long to come around? Is he afraid he will be considered soft on crime when he runs for president in 2020? Too bad, he might have had my vote.

  10. Mr. Kristof, I applaud your perseverance and belief that Mr. Cooper may well have been an innocent man, and your work to finally get Governor Brown to approve DNA testing in this case. I hope those who perpetrated this crime and who failed to do their jobs in seeking justice will all be held accountable.

  11. This is one case where the president should issue a pardon on behalf of a black man sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit. The authorities couldn't find the white people who slaughtered this family so they found the perfect suspect to pay for other peoples' crimes. Jack Johnson doesn't need a pardon and neither did Joe Arpaio but Kevin Cooper deserves one. How about it, Mr. president?

  12. These charges are state charges not federal charges. The POTUS can't pardon him.

  13. Even if Trump was inclined to pardon Mr. Cooper (which I don't believe he is), presidential pardons only apply to Federal crimes not State crimes, which this is.

  14. Nick, wow, what great work.

  15. Hopefully he will be found innocent. Certainly appears to be and if he is indeed innocent then the culprits in his railroading should be arrested. In addition for all on death row who have committed heinous crimes they are obviously guilty of let’s get the wheels of justice going and start carrying out their death penalties pronto. These people don’t belong among the living.

  16. The absence of DNA from Cooper does not identify the killer. It simply establishes that the perpetrator was someone else. Without testing of other suspects it does not lead to another arrest.

  17. Another inconsistent argument. If you are hoping he is found innocent why are you so willing to execute the others "pronto"?

  18. What have YOU got to lose, Governor Brown ??? Certainly not your life. Right this wrong, answer these questions, show your integrity and honor.
    TEST the DNA, for the sake of Justice. Thank you.

  19. Law without justice is nothing more than a threat of force. By their own hands, the police involved degraded themselves into a street gang in drag!

  20. Blind faith in a system that is blinded by color. Incredibly disheartening, frustrating and yes, shameful. Settle this, Governor Brown. Once and for all. What are you afraid of ???

  21. It is so encouraging to see how powerfully you use your power of the pen, Mr. Kristof. The cries of a prisoner would have gone unaddressed had you not turned enough ears towards this injustice.
    And you need not apologize for declaring Mr. Cooper's innocence; you have asked simply for a test to make that determination.
    Too often we feel powerless to make the mighty care about us, but you show that we need to find the right platform and to state a case compellingly. Thank you for your good work and update.

  22. In no way is it peculiar that you have fought for so long to advocate for complete, unbiased investigation of this crime.

    I had thought that open heartlessness was a relatively new and largely Republican political phenomenon, most recently epitomized by separating babies and children from their parents. However, it seems that Democrats, women Democrats at that, behaved likewise. It certainly changed my view of Kamala Harris as a possible future leader, and it will take a long time to expunge that distaste. Dianne Feinstein is past the age at which I would have put her in my mental running, being a relatively aged person myself, but refusal to consider all possible evidence should not be excused in any era.

    Thank you so much for your revelation of this judicial travesty.

  23. I don’t understand why Gov Brown and Sen Harris objected to the testing. It seems that when capital punishment is possible in a criminal trial every available tool to establish guilt or innocence should be used.

    I am opposed to the death penalty and regard it a. barbaric practice that negatively impacts everyone when it occurs.
    The execution of a prisoner by the state is a gravely serious matter, irespective of one’s personal beliefs and it ought to be assured that every effort is made to prevent killing an innocent person.

    I hope that Mr Kristof and the others cited here are successful and I wish there would be some way to assure fairness in all capital cases.

    The current zeitgeist in this country makes me pessimistic that it will change, The fact that so called liberal politicians are the subject of public pressure in this case leaves me deeply discouraged.

  24. Consider all of the other convictions made by police and prosecutors who were somehow related to this case. They all come into question.

  25. Just reading the few comments so far, I am saddened how many are trying to bend it into a political commentary.

    This is an issue/story about justice and science. Aye, there is a political aspect, because a Governor ( A Democrat at that) is slow on the uptick.

    No matter, the whole idea is that if the science is there, then it should be available to all within the justice system, whatever skin color, or background.

    Again, let's be consistent.

  26. Unlike Alan D, I do not support capital punishment, but I agree with him in all other respects vis-a-vis Kevin Cooper and everyone else on death row. The question is, Why are police and prosecutors so willing to convict the wrong person? In Cooper's case, racism seems to have been involved, but there are white people on death row as well. The two-part Times piece on Joe Bryan, a school principal convicted of killing his wife, is another example of the miscarriage of justice, although Bryan is serving a life sentence and is not on death row. It's utterly confounding. Then there's the case of New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who seems to have gone easy on the Trump family after accepting campaign donations from a Trump associate. These stories, combined with the widespread killing of unarmed black men by police who are not charged with homicide, leave many Americans wondering if the police and justice system can be trusted.

  27. The fact that one innocent person could be executed is reason enough to abolish the death penalty. God bless you Mr. Kristof.

  28. I think it's safe to say that the state is not going to execute him before this testing is done, and I think it's equally safe to say that you are the primary reason for that. I hope you're right and if so, you have a lot to be proud of.

  29. He may be innocent of this crime, and guilty of an abduction and rape, this by your own admission. If he does that again will you be happy with this effort? Many times the police put away the wrong guy, but they pick a guy know for other offenses. This isn't justice, but it is deterrence.

  30. Why do you say that?

    He had prior convictions for burglary but not abduction or rape.

    Are you saying that a risk of the death penalty via a broken justice system is a deterrent for burglary? Yikes.

  31. Oh okay, I found the part in Kristof’s original column that I think you’re referring to:

    “I’m particularly troubled by one episode. Cooper admits forcing a 17-year-old girl into a vehicle in 1982. She says that he also hit her, threatened to kill her and raped her, and she went afterward to a hospital to seek treatment; he flatly denies hitting or raping her. Hile says that if the evidence had been strong, Cooper would have been charged with rape. For my part, I can’t think why the girl would have lied, and although it’s impossible to know after 36 years what happened, it bothers me.”

    So he still wasn’t convicted, but I now see what you were referring to. I still disagree with your premise that even if he wasn’t the murderer the risk of false conviction may deter others, but I see where you got the information about his history.

  32. Matt, your logic is flawed. Kevin Cooper has not just been 'put away', he's on death row awaiting execution. You seem to be implying that he deserves to be executed, even if he's innocent because god forbid, he might commit another crime if he's exonerated and released from prison and that would then be on Mr. Kristoff's conscience. Think about it...

  33. I’ve practiced law for 24 years. As they say in Shawshank Redemption there are all innocent. The author has thrown around too many “maybe” words for my taste. I just want to know who is the real killer.

  34. So wouldn't you want the advanced DNA evidence admitted?? I'm the farthest thing from a race-pandering liberal goof, in fact, per most of my posts to the comments section, I'm certain many believe I'm "racist." I don't care, I know who/what I am. What I'm certain of is that minorities, especially A.A. men are too often treated unfairly in the court system. BTW, my (white) nephew was killed 13-yrs ago by two AA men, who were finally caught per DNA evidence last year. And yes, they indeed got off with relatively light sentences, so I don't buy into the victim state mantra that AA men never get a fair shake. That's nonsense! However, I've recently read two books by Bryan Stevenson, most recently I've read The Sun Does Shine about an AA man on death row for 30-yrs in Alabama--he was finally released per complete lack of evidence. One innocent person put to death is too many! With this in mind, why in the world would ANYONE oppose allowing advanced DNA testing to determine Mr. Cooper's guilt!?? If the DNA proves he's guilty, then move forward, if not, how can anyone even entertain the thought of killing an innocent person? I'm sure most on death row are guilty. But per far too many innocent people put to death, especially blacks, my opinion is that unless DNA, as well as corroborating evidence exists, nobody should be sentenced to death!

  35. And so do the testing. The answer may well be there.

  36. As a person who is against the Death Penalty, it is distressing to follow this irresponsible journalism. The work is just a rehash of Cooper’s multiple appeals.
    *No anaylsis of the prior DNA testing that conclusively linked Cooper to the crimes.
    *No interview of the former defense DNA expert who now believes Cooper is guilty.
    *He fails to mention the second rape committed by Cooper while he was on the run after the murders or the fact that the earlier rape scene had similiar characteristics as the murder scene.
    *He also leaves out troves of trial witnesses, damning evidence from the hideout house (murder weapon; victims hair in shower) and the details from extensive evidentiary hearings.

    The NYTimes should responsibly present all the facts from both sides in a case that is being used as a Death Penalty barometer.

  37. You want "justice" from the legal system? You are kidding, right?

    Our elected judges (appointed are no better) are very often high school "dweebs", college egg-heads, far far from the top of their law school classes, often socially inept.... Suddenly everyone wants to buy their lunches, laugh at their jokes.... They are poorly paid compared to "good" lawyers, under-supported both in staff and technology. Add massive caseloads that would be daunting for the best. Soon they become rote processors rather than adjudicators. That's who we've got. And you expect "justice"? Surely you jest.

  38. Thank you, Mr. Kristof. We need people like you.

  39. Although I am absolutely against death penalty, I think that the Opinion Columnists of NYT should not play investigators, judges, and jury in old crime cases. But, given the large number of convictions for violent crimes that turn out to be false many years later, something is definitely rotten in the US system of crime investigation and punishment, a system that permits such judgements and their reversal.

  40. That's very convenient for you to say journalists should not be investigators. Would you still say that if you were innocent and on death row? Thought not.

  41. @Tuvw Xyz: If you were Mr. Cooper or his family- I am sure you would welcome ANYONE taking up your cause. Your comment appears contradictory.

    You acknowledge the bounty of wrongly convicted and the "rotten" U.S. system of criminal investigation... Yet berate others for taken up the cause. Perhaps "The Innocence Project" isn't worthy of advocating either?

  42. The press shouldn’t help keep the justice system honest? Why?

  43. Nicholas Kristof and Norman Hile - the real life superheroes.

    Governor Brown must allow the advanced DNA testing. What is the worst that can happen - that an innocent man sentenced to death might go free? Do you see the sheer absurdity of this? Do.the.right.thing.

  44. Apart from bullet trains, Jerry usually doesn’t do things arbitrarily. I’d like to know his reason why this took so long.

  45. And should Mr. Cooper be proven innocent, then what about those who framed him? Did they not break the law?

  46. Not enough repercussions for those in the "framing" business. They should get the punishment the innocent person has already suffered.

  47. If he's innocent, then of course they did. But people who send innocent people to prison are never held to account.

  48. In the world where reality, ruled by an authentic justice, prevails there are only two questions to consider. One, do you want to protect society from the person or people who did these murders? Two, do you think that the currently convicted man did it? If the answer to the first is anything but "yes" or to the second anything "no", then society and justice requires a pardon.

  49. Mr. Kristof's evidence presents a compelling argument in favor of Mr. Cooper's innocence, but it is only one side. We haven't seen the prosecutor's case. Presuming the prosecution is equally compelling, this all comes down to a contest. A human life should not hang in the balance between two competing arguments when objective science can answer the question. I don't know why this isn't a no brainier.

  50. When “federal judges, law school deans, F.B.I. veterans and a former president of the American Bar Association say he may well be innocent,” how is it “naïveté” for readers to consider the same possibility?

    If he is guilty, new DNA testing will not exonerate him. So what's the problem?

  51. I have the feeling that I have entered the justice system's version of the twilight zone. What possible reason could the state have for refusing to use the best evidence available to determine a person's guilt or innocence? The government, moreover, should pay for the test. Mr. Cooper's supporters may have the resources to finance the test, but what about other defendants who can't afford to do so? The government has the legal responsibility to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and it can't meet that obligation unless it gives a jury access to all relevant evidence.

    The second bizarre aspect of this case stems from the governor's power to decide whether the test will be performed. That authority properly belongs to the judiciary.

    My analysis may not conform to the laws on the books, but it most certainly does meet the requirements of justice in any rational system. This controversy reflects the shortcomings of a legal system whose architects seem to care more about rules and procedures than about justice. Like I said, the twilight zone.

  52. My question is whether the DNA evidence can really establish his innocence. That evidence may be incomplete or damaged or DNA that was once on it may have been wiped off. In other words, have Jerry Brown and others not called for DNA testing because they believe it will be inconclusive in this case, as it has been at times in order murder cases?

  53. It’s not that he may be guilty. He is guilty. I would encourage anyone to look outside the confines of this article for the evidence. It’s laughably overwhelming against the defendant.

    As an attorney, I can tell you that the defendant’s counsel—or anyone effective counsel— will often clamor for continual testing regardless of its relevance and regardless of the repeated previous testing. Why? Because thats his best shot of dragging this thing out.

    The naïveté of some readers is painfully frustrating. Please look at the evidence.

  54. Could you be a little more specific? What evidence?

    Sounds like the evidence you refer to is the fact that he is black and yes, in America's criminal justice system that is overwhelmingly against the defendant.

  55. What if most if not all evidence in this case proves to be fabricated? What then?

  56. Thank you, Mark. Kevin Cooper is GUILTY. After Kristof's previous article, I kept urging the readers to do independent research. Pathetically, it is most readers, not just some.

  57. Thank you Kristof for your vigilance. Every wrong righted serves us all and the generations!

  58. If he is found innocent, it will be v healing for our nation, particularly now, when Trump has encouraged racism and cruelty like we haven't seen for decades.

    Thanks Mr. Kristoff!

  59. Which is why I am adamantly opposed to the death penalty. No justice system is perfect and can be corrupted at many levels by the imperfections of man. Innocents should not die because of our wish to punish the guilty.

  60. Or he could be guilty?

  61. I agree with Gloria's comments. Mr. Kristof has not presented what the DA believed was irrefutable evidence that is in the court transcripts. The convicted Mr. Cooper's DNA was found in the house. The billing of a long-distance phone call from the house within hours after the murder was made to Mr. Cooper's girlfriend in Philadelphia. When arrested, Mr. Cooper was found with unique currency that was stolen from the house. Mr. Cooper continued to change his testimony at subsequent trials to address these issues. A request for DNA from "Trapper" fro MASH who made public comments some 10 years ago that if only those tests were done, an innocent man would be set free. Well, they did the tests then, and he was 99.99% identified as the source of the DNA found. Do I think there should be a test if new technology has come along? Yes. But, if this round also does not clear Mr. Cooper, then Mr. Kristof needs to provide a written public apology to not only the readers, but the families of the victims for the additional trauma he has produced over his false statements, as well as the graphics in the May article depicting shot diagrams and blood. I provided these concerns from that article, and Mr. Kristof nor the NYT, has addressed them. READ the court(s) transcript(s), instead of a knee jerk reaction based on what others may have said. Get FACTS, please.

  62. They have a suspect and hopefully he’ll be forced to submit dna

  63. Recall that Jeff (Beauregard) Sessions dismantled a 30 person National Commission on Forensic Science, a group formed by Obama in 2013. This commission was charged with raising the standards of forensics, without which we may not have the types of DNA testing that this article describes. Science and politics are linked.

  64. Looking at the evidence, it seems pretty unlikely that Cooper was the killer. But let's not cry too many tears. Digging into his background, it is revealed that he was already a career criminal at this point in his life and his incarceration likely saved several women from assaults.

  65. And did those crimes carry the death penalty?

  66. I think we need to have Defence lawyers who have the
    time and money to investigate every lead - even if they are only "Public Defenders".

    Prosecutors have to turn over each piece of evidence and not be allowed to throw anything out.

    Can someone clarify for me what Josh Ryen now
    believes about who killed his family and his
    friend Chris ?

  67. This case was featured in an episode of CNN's special series, "Death Row Stories." It's a shocking story.

  68. If he is innocent then I hope the DNA test exonerates him, but at the same time everyone arrested should have their DNA taken. Imagine how many #metoo cases would have been backed up by evidence that their rapists would have been in the system and already in jail.

  69. So what is the problem with DNA testing to get the DNA pattern as well ??
    37% of us have A+, 36% have O+, 9% have B+, 0.9% of the population have AB negative. Meaning that 3.5 million people in the US have the rarest blood type. Essentially, blood type as a tool for accurate conviction, is meaningless. It can only be used to exonerate.

  70. We have reached peak bureaucratic idiocy where the process becomes more important than the outcome the process was designed to achieve.

  71. We have reached? As concerns death penalty in US, we've been at peak idiocy for over 40 years.

  72. The State has the responsibility to look at all facts involved in any legal matter. They are not there to only prosecute. Let the fact's fall where they may. Who the heck does the State think it is to deny possible evidence?

    Another perfect reason you can't necessarily trust the powers that be. This is a perfect reason to allow gun ownership. Just in case if at some point in the future our governmenment begins to act like an enemy as so many governments do in so many countries. Let the citizens be armed. At some point the United States will fall just like all countries have in the past.

    Never forget the government is made up of people just like us. In other words you can never just arbitrarily trust any given government. Even the good ones have their fair share of bad apples.

  73. If the government wants to come at you what kind of weapon do you think will suffice??? Because they’re coming at you with a drone and you’ll be pulverized before you can say ‘semi-automatic”. Good luck with that.

  74. Kristof is wrong in his assessment.

    1. Hair strands found in Jessica Ryen's hands were already DNA tested. They were found to contain dog hair and hair from her sibling. Presumably she got these hairs in her hands while trying to crawl away from her killer. Kristof needs to stop repeating the lie that the hair was never tested.

    2. Testimony from 8 year old Josh Ryen is all over the place and obviously can't be used for either guilt or innocence claims. 8 year olds can't reliably give eyewitness testimony in times of crisis.

    3. Button from a prison issue jacket was found with Josh Ryen's blood on it in the vacant house 150 feet away from the Ryen house where Cooper admitted he had been staying.

    4. Blood was found on the carpet in the shower, and in the sink of the vacant house matching the Ryen parents. Again, Cooper admitted he had stayed in that house on the very day of the murders.

    5. Sheath of the murder weapon (hatchet) was found on the floor of the vacant house where Cooper stayed.

    6. Hunting knives and ice pick were found to be missing from vacant house (where Cooper stayed).

    7. Shoe pattern footprints were an exact match between the vacant house and the Ryen house. These shoes were prison issued. Furthermore the shoe size for these prints was an exact match for Kevin Cooper.

    8. Blood from an African American with the same blood group (ABO) as Kevin Cooper was found in the Ryen house.

  75. You dismiss the eyewitness testimony of one of the victims, who, even at 8 years old, can tell black people from white people, and list a string of circumstantial evidence.

  76. Can you reveal your sources?

  77. There is no reason a mentally normal 8 yr old can not give accurate eye witness testimony. Investigation Discovery ran a program showing that a 4 yr old gave accurate description of the ski mask worn by the killer of his grandparents. They later found the ski mask.

    All the 8 yr old needed to do was distinguish an African American face from several white faces. How hard is that? Trauma affects adults no less than older children, That is a problem for everyone so can't discard child's testimony.

    Did anyone check for blood evidence once they found the Ryen's car suposedly stolen by three white people?

  78. Thank you Mr. Kristof for bringing this situation to the public's attention with such precision and clarity. Your work has helped get this broken process to gradually move forward, allowing for some steps to be taken in the pursuit of a more complete, true and honest form of justice.

  79. Great news.

  80. Thank you for shining a light on this case and inviting your readers to speak up and ask for DNA testing. I was shocked and saddened to learn, in reading Bryan Stevenson's "Just Mercy," the extent to which race and class have impacted justice, and how difficult, once a conviction is wrongly made, it is to right that wrong. We as a society should use all tools available to us, such as advanced DNA testing, to make justice more just.

  81. Let us hope that the T-shirt and the hairs are still available. To spend the best years of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit is a travesty, a crime in itself. Thank you Mr. Kristof for not giving up on Kevin Cooper.

  82. It is indeed a crime in itself -- and will anyone be held accountable for it?

  83. Bless you Mr. Kristof. I was reeling in horror after your last article, and joined Amnesty International to protest this travesty of injustice.

    Please keep up the pressure to make sure that Justice prevails!

  84. Before the government puts someone to death it needs to be absolutely, 100% certain they've got the right person and that that person did the crime in question.

    As such, whatever test is available to make those determinations must be employed.

  85. This is one of the best examples of why journalism is critical to a healthy republic. I, too, just finished reading Just Mercy by Mr. Stephenson. In addition to being a powerful writer and sophisticated thinker, he is truly doing God's work. To be wrongfully accused, then wrongfully found guilty and then wrongfully sent to death row is just unbearable to me as a member of a so-called free society. The fact that the VAST majority of those in this situation are non-white is even more disgusting. Mr. Stephenson and his team in Alabama are chipping away at these horrific "mistakes" and Gov. Brown should proceed, post haste, with these new DNA tests and free this man should he be found innocent. I don't know if it's possible to make amends/reparation to people who experience this horror. The system took their lives away from them. We owe it as members of a co-called "civil" society to GET THIS RIGHT. I am grateful that I have a meaningful prayer life in addition to my activism, because in situations like these, I can only turn to prayer to help the inmates on death row, and to find a way to live in a world where these things happen, regularly, to our innocent neighbors. Thank you, Mr. Kristof, as usual, for your amazing work. Keep going.

  86. Great book, highly recommend. Any Amazon shoppers, you can shop via Amazon Smile and donate to Mr. Stevenson’s organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, with each purchase.

  87. As in all death penalty cases, some 20 years of appeals are offered the defendant. During that 20 years there was no request for DNA testing. So the case reached the end of the line. Then, the DNA request was made. Such requests are often a ruse, and so the courts require substantial proof. Moreover, this is not a death penalty case. There are 700 people on death row in California, but nobody has been executed for 12 years.

  88. It's never too late for the truth.

  89. As I read this and so many other similar stories, I'm looking at my CA jury summons set for next month. I'll go as required. But, I cannot in good conscience agree to participate as a jury member. I just do not have faith in this system.

    The most disappointing part is the way too small outcry from the judicial system itself. Where are the standards?

  90. Minue, I am a private investigator who specializes in criminal and indigent defense. Over a twenty-three year career, I have witnessed a vast amount of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct that crossed the line into criminal behavior. Please do a search on the concept of "jury nullification." It is your right and your duty, as a member of any jury, to be part of the final arbiters of what happens in the courtroom. No one wants any prospective jury member to know about jury nullification, but you, as a jury member, have the power to right any wrong that occurs in the courtroom. Jury Nullification. Do a search and educate yourself on the concept and practice, and use this power wisely.

  91. Minu, if you act in good conscience when you're on the jury, you will be improving the system.

  92. But this is why you MUST serve on a jury - Because you WANT to see justice served!

  93. I believe that one of the reasons that it's hard for other keepers of the law, I.e., attorneys general (remember Governor Brown was Attorney General) find it difficult to pursue cases where other law enforcement bodies may have lied or manipulated cases to conform to their beliefs is that it condemns a part of the process that they WANT to believe in. After all cops are part of the larger system of justice as are district attorneys and attorneys general. It may be just as human as wanting to believe that a system they are part of is not as corrupt as it seems to be in Kevin Cooper's case.

  94. Pretty much. Previous testing seemed to prove his guilt but there’s reason to believe that those were rigged. If these tests prove that it has horrifying implications

  95. Presumed innocence is a holy concept. It is one of the most important concepts there is and we need to continually renew our commitment to it. Thank you for your great journalism in this regard.

  96. "After 35 years, the wheels of justice may finally be creaking into motion for Kevin Cooper."

    When this happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. It makes me think that there must be something more, much more, than the pettiness of our meager incarnations on this earth at this particular time.

    For now, it rests with us to ensure that justice prevails for everyone, including those who are our least fortunate. Kevin Cooper is among our least fortunate.

    How will we be measured? "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

    How will we be judged? "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

  97. Based on the information in your extensive article I also wrote to Governor Brown. I seldoom write to politicians; however, in one of three recent letters iI’ve written to politicians their actions have changed. Though my specific letter most likely did not move any of them, our collective voices did. My lesson learned, which would extend to all of us, is to be actively engaged in the democratic process.

  98. Thank you Mr. Kristof for your continuing efforts in this case. I highly recommend Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy for an in depth look at the very dark underbelly of our judicial system. I am in my 60’s now, and wishing I had become a defense attorney so I could help the victims of this system; who, because they are typically poor, predominantly black or brown and uneducated, are largely forgotten about by the general public once they sink into the judicial swamp.

  99. Thanks for the update on this case, Mr. Kristof. Since reading your previous articles on this case, I've been bothered almost daily, and been really shaken to the core. I had been a true admirer of Kamala Harris until your May article, and felt completely let down by her refusal to take action. So glad to hear that she and Gov. Brown are, finally, turning around on this issue. This is only one case of justice gone wrong, but hopefully the attention you bring to it will oil the gears for innocent people wasting away their lives in prison.

  100. We witnessed a great human feat this week when the Thai children and coach were saved. It took thousands to do it. In this case we may save a man's life by a simple test. Why not?

  101. Hey Nick:

    Thank you so much for shining a light in the darkness that permeates our criminal justice system in America which predominantly victimizes poor black defendants.

    There is no doubt that but for the Innocence Project and others like you involved in getting to the bottom of specious death penalty convictions, many more innocent black men would be murdered by government as a result of corrupt police, prosecutors and judges.

    I practiced law in New Orleans for many years and witnessed first hand how the infamous Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick perverted criminal justice in that city for a generation with the help of his corrupt prosecutors, lying New Orleans police and complicit Orleans Parish Criminal Court judges, who were, in reality, the only criminals in the courtroom when prosecutions against the innocent were brought.

    Anyone interested in learning how an innocent black man could be convicted of murder in New Orleans and spend years in prison before being exonerated should check out the SCOTUS case of Connick v. Thompson.

    Unfortunately there are still many jurisdictions in America where criminal injustice is meted out a la Harry Connick and many defendants like Thompson was, who are sitting in prison awaiting execution or serving time for crimes they didn’t commit.

    Perhaps Kevin Cooper is one of them; and thanks to your reporting we may soon find out.

  102. I’m a Californian, a Democrat and I’m ashamed that our governance perpetuates barriers to prove ones innocence. That is completely immoral and unconscionable. Shame on Kamala and Jerry.

    As for the San Bernardino county Sheriffs office- it is common knowledge that it is racist and corrupt. The feds need to step in and clean house.

  103. If a state or nation executes a person for the crime of murder, and that government agency understands that there is a possibility, however small, that the accused may actually be innocent, but that agency refuses to act on that possibility allowing an execution to occur, then that agency is guilty of the very crime it accused others.

  104. My guess is that it's avoidance of compensation for wrongful imprisonment that has kept officials from authorizing testing more so than anything else. The testing will be free, but the outcome of the testing will be having to compensate someone for stealing a large portion of their life. Never mind that it would show another example where overt racism has allowed actual threats to roam free.

  105. Nick Kristof, you, the issues you tackle and your passion are an inspiration. You are a sincerely GOOD man, and this planet needs many more like you. Thank you

  106. It is this kind of judicial cases, common in the US, it seems, that makes me fear for the next SCOTUS judge. I read about cases like this where the SC could not be interested less. Read The Injustice System by Stafford Smith, and hope that this case does not end at the SC. There would be no justice for this victim, the SC would not even look at the dna case. If he is innocent, of course, but that seems likely enough.

  107. "But this case is also a window into the much broader problem of an often dysfunctional criminal justice system that particularly oppresses the indigent."
    I had to gut my retirement savings just to hire the best lawyer in San Diego to defend my black son for a "crime" he never even committed...I wasn't indigent, but that made me bereft of a retirement savings.

  108. Sadly, when an innocent man is framed for murder, a guilty one stays free to murder again. It seems that we do not have a real system of justice, but one that likes to provide the appearance of justice so that elected law enforcement personnel can be reelected or run for higher office. And when it is easy to frame minorities and the indigent, it becomes a ready made situation for a "law and order" candidate to run for office and stereotype broad groups of people. If only we were truly dedicated to the law and equal justice for all, we would look a whole lot different as a nation. Justice would no longer be colored by our prejudices. I doubt a Trump could be elected in such an environment. And, black athletes would not feel the need to kneel during the national anthem to make the point that we are not there, yet, as a nation.

  109. Bravo!
    Such commitment to calling for the rational use of scientific means for revealing the truth and exposing possible lies stemming from human flaws in the justice system is a highly humane and ethical calling. It enobles journalism. It is what intellectual responsibility is all about.
    It also demonstrates clearly why capital punishment should have no place in an enlightened nation. Period.

  110. I hope the DNA testing proceeds, and that the truth comes out. Then, one hopes the people of California will try to compensate him for the wrongs done to him. It would have been nice not to learn that one of the Kardashians is involved, however. Isn't there any place one can go and not be informed what this clan is doing?

  111. There is something critically wrong in this country when so many prosecutors, in pursuit of a "win", use any means possible to convict innocent (frequently black) men and women of crimes that solid evidence cannot support. What is even worse is their refusal (just like the current POTUS) to ever admit to wrong-doing or to apologize -- through actions and words-- for their mistakes.

    I applaud Nicholas Kristof for using his columnist platform to fight for justice. He had leverage that most of us do not.

  112. Thank you for shining light on this travesty of justice.

  113. There are three lessons from this matter that our country must internalize.

    First, DNA testing must be mandatory for all citizens. DNA is today's finger print testing and is far more accurate. DNA can exonerate or convict without bias so long as the data is maintained with integrity. DNA data bases must be established nationwide. They, along with police arrest data bases, must be maintained in a consistent manner and must be audited at irregular intervals by an arm of the FBI.

    Second, should the DNA testing exculpate Mr Cooper of this crime, he should be compensated by the state and the compensation should be scaled to how long he's served and his remaining life expectancy. This would not be a "get rich quick" solution, but we (as society) must be realistic that any person whose life has been so unjustly interrupted will never have the opportunity to reach his or her potential.

    Third, should the DNA testing exculpate Mr Cooper, the police who framed him should be held accountable. At a minimum they should (have been) fired or lose their pension. At a maximum they should be tried as an after the fact accomplice to the crime since by framing an innocent man, they have helped the guilty parties escape.

    When bad cops break or abuse the law, the impact on society is akin to a pedofile priest preying on a parish's children. When cops, priests, or presidents for that matter abuse their power, the repercussions undermine peoples' faith in their own society.

  114. "At least 162 people on death row in the United States have been exonerated since 1973, and one academic study estimated that 4.1 percent of those on death row in the U.S. may be innocent."

    This, surely, is amongst the strongest arguments for abolishing the death penalty altogether, as it already has been in every other civilised country.

  115. Anyone who has ever had even a slight brush with our "justice system" knows that phrase is the quintessential oxymoron. At least if you are not white and otherwise privileged (i.e. a woman or wealthy).

  116. What I'd like to know, what I think would be illuminating, is what is the reason Kamala Harris gave you for not approving DNA testing when she was Attorney General of California.

  117. I'm not sure how Harris and Brown can justify not having previously allowed DNA testing. Why would anyone not allow scientific testing that could prove or exonerate?

    Both had previously acted cowardly at the time in not wanting to appear soft on crime, of not wanting to appear soft on a Manson-like slaughter. Putting politics first is bad enough, but to then dig in their heels in the later decades, putting their reps above justice. Geez, we do have some poor leadership in the country.

  118. Yes it is possible you're wrong, but why Mr Brown, a supposedly devout Catholic, has been unwilling to allow the process of determing Mr Cooper's guilt or innocence to move forward speaks of a wrong far more socially devastating.

  119. I get it that you're a columnist and write opinion/advocacy rather than straight 'objective' journalism but I think you are understating the evidence that Kevin Cooper is a violent predator.

    You mention that he was accused of rape in PA, but left out the details that he beat and kidnapped a 17 year old girl who stumbled on him during a burglary, held a screwdriver to her throat then raped her. His semen was in her her pants. He claims the sex was consensual. You don't mention the second rape near Santa Cruz. (LA Times 7/8/18)

    I think they should do the genetic testing on the hair and on the tan shirt to see if it matches Lee's DNA.

  120. Yes, it is possible that you have mistaken innocence. But far more importantly, it is possible that California has mistaken (or even worse, been hoodwinked into believing) guilt.

    We cannot be a nation that executes innocent people, even though we know - it isn't fake news, Texans - that we have done exactly that. So that makes the time, expense and effort of allowing a prisoner on death row to prove his innocence a necessary step in justice.

    I'd be happier if we did not execute; if we joined the civilized world and forsook vengeance for justice and mercy. Incarceration is sufficient. But despite our pride in being a Christian nation we just can't seem to get there. That puts the burden squarely on us to hear out the Kevin Coopers and the Cameron Todd Willinghams. That makes DNA tests our duty.

    You may be wrong about his innocence, Mr Kristof, but nonetheless you are **right.** He deserves every action to get himself off of death row. I hope the DNA shows something definitive, for all of our sakes. "Any man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind." Those words are from a real Christian.

  121. Another story about a convicted killer as “victim.”
    Thank God I’m a Republican.

  122. Now, please listen to season 2 of the "In The Dark" podcast about Curtis Flowers and Mississippi's efforts to execute him.

  123. I'm not buying this knee-jerk, liberal reaction.

    The facts for a cover up just don't add up.

    Run around wasting time trying to free a felon?

    No thanks.

  124. "She gave sheriff’s deputies the bloody coveralls he had worn that night, and deputies threw them away. Instead, deputies arrested Kevin Cooper, a 25-year-old black man.."
    That's the ONLY reason I took my black son with me out of the USA...and we're not coming back.

  125. Remember the name: Kamala Harris. California's Attorney General, a true careerist always looking to climb the next rung. Kamala Harris is why this guy couldn't get a break - so she could show she is TOUGH ON CRIME. Social Justice Warrior - bah!

  126. Kevin Cooper is a serial burglar who has escaped from prison once. During his escape, he was accused of rape by a teenage girl. At one point, he was transferred from prison to a mental hospital after pretending he was mentally ill. He is a very credible guy.

  127. Yes, imagine how many rapists could be stopped if the rape kits could be processed ASAP, and not be stored on the back shelf of some evidence locker!

  128. Dear Mr. Kristoff, what you have written is about fundamental human rights which is supposed to be more important than race, sex, . . . , among other social status. Apparently Keven Cooper is one of those disadvantageous. And even more terrible if police had tried to frame him as a criminal.

    Within a week in last May the New York Times published your comment on Cooper and “Blood Will Tell”, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/05/23/magazine/joe-bryan-blood-..., on a potential victim of Texas high school principal Joe Bryan with highly likely faulty forensic scientific evidences.

    Under any civilization nothing is more valuable than an individual human live. Human conscience should do everything to prevent any potential mistakes to kill innocent people.

    Thanks for everything you have done on this case.

  129. If our system of justice truly believes that mandatory minimim sentencing is a deterent to crime then we must have and rigorously enforce (without statute of limitation) as such against prosecutors, judges, etc. who knowingly violate our (albeit corrupt) system. Accountabiliy!

  130. Tthank you, Mr. Kristof, for bringing attention to this case. There is so much evidence that Kevin Cooper was framed, and he's not the only man on death row who has been a victim of such incompetence, dishonesty, and racial bias.

    I know a number of men on California's death row, including Kevin Cooper, and I hope this case frees Kevin and leads California to abandon the dreadful immoral practice of State killing.

    Great journalism!

  131. I want to know why anybody supposedly responsible (Governor, Atty General, etc) would refuse testing. What is their interest in NOT knowing that a person is innocent?
    Why is it even a question of getting permission?! It should be an automatic right!
    Why the police wanted to frame somebody is also crazy. OK - they don't like Blacks (not an acceptable reason but a factual one) but why let the guilty person go? Is it really so important to keep an innocent black man in jail that they are willing to let the real murderer go free? Is the real murderer a friend of somebody?
    "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense. "

    I would claim that the phrase "to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor" requires that DNA be made available for testing as well as a qualified DNA expert as a matter of right, not privilege.

  132. So what is the problem with DNA testing to get the DNA pattern as well ??
    37% of us have A+, 36% have O+, 9% have B+, 0.9% of the population have AB negative. Meaning that 3.5 million people in the US have the rarest blood type. Essentially, blood type as a tool for accurate conviction, is meaningless. It can only be used to exonerate.

  133. I took a somewhat similar action, knowing that it would probably be ignored or lost in space. I'm a supporter of the Democrat running for Ga governor, Stacey Abrams, and when I saw Harris' endorsement on Abrams' website, I posted a comment about Harris' position on this case.

  134. What happens to the cops who broke the law and framed him? Are they arrested after the test? Do they lose their pension? Are they jailed?

    Until police, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct is punished, no matter how far into the future, innocent people will fall victim to these lazy ideas that a black man makes a better defendant.

  135. Jerry Brown has a very honorable distant past with respect to capital punishment. Indeed, he was the humane star of the 1960 attempt to keep Caryl Chessman from being executed.

    The case was the mid-century pivot of the cause of abolishing the state's killing people. Chessman was probably a vicious man, but not guilty of the charge for which he was railroaded to the gas chamber.

    He was most likely the notorious rapist, The Red Light Bandit. Now, whatever you think about rape and the death penalty, California did not have capital punishment for that crime.

    An ambitious D.A. saw a chance to grandstand, and convicted Chessman under California's Kidnap-with-bodily-injury statute, a death offense.

    Later, the judicial system ruled such sleazy twisting of the law invalid. But, it didn't make the decision retroactive to Chessman's case.

    After 12 years, it looked like the man would be executed in February 1960. At the last moment, Governor Pat Brown, Jerry's father, gave him a reprieve, destroying the Governor's career.

    He said it was his seminary-student son, Jerry, who had convinced him.

    But, Dad dishonored his brave act of February, refusing a commutation during the following weeks.

    Chessman was put to death on 2 May 1960, Jerry notwithstanding.

    It is shocking that today's Brown has followed Dad in dishonoring his own role in February 1960. One hopes that Christoff will give us a supplementary column about what on earth has happened to Governor Moonbeam.

  136. Thank you, Nicholas Kristof, for your persistence. This man's experience is the epitome of the evil of capital punishment. Ban it! And carry on, Mr. Kristof!