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Attorney General Bill Lockyer Submits Final DNA Testing Results with Court in Kevin Cooper Case
Death Row Inmate Was First in State to Request DNA Tests Under State Innocence Act
(SAN BERNARDINO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced that the latest DNA testing results involving death row inmate Kevin Cooper provide strong evidence of Cooper's guilt in the 1983 quadruple homicide. The DNA test results were filed today with the San Diego Superior Court.
In 1985, Kevin Cooper was sentenced to death for the quadruple murder of Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica, and an 11-year-old houseguest Chris Hughes in the Ryen's home in San Bernardino County. Cooper was also convicted of attempting to murder the Ryen's son, eight-year-old Joshua. The San Bernardino District Attorney alleged that Cooper killed his victims by repeatedly stabbing and hacking them with a hatchet and buck knife. During the trial, Cooper testified that he had never been inside the Ryen's home and that he did not commit the crimes. Cooper has continued to maintain his innocence over the last 19 years.
In 2000, a new state law, supported by the Attorney General, took effect which gives convicted felons the right to obtain DNA testing in order to support their claim of innocence. Cooper is the state's first death row inmate to request DNA testing under the law.
Pursuant to an agreement between the Attorney General, the District Attorney of San Bernardino and Cooper's attorneys, DNA testing was conducted by the state Department of Justice's DNA Laboratory on several pieces of evidence from the 1983 crime.
The DNA testing was conducted in two phases. The first phase required the DOJ Laboratory to develop a genetic profile for each of several pieces of crime scene evidence. The tested evidence includes: a drop of blood found in the hallway of the Ryen's home just outside the bedroom where Doug and Peggy were murdered and near the location where the body of Jessica was found, two cigarette butts found in the Ryen's station wagon that was believed to be the killer's getaway vehicle, and a bloodstained t-shirt found in the vicinity of a local bar near the Ryen's home. The results of this phase of testing established that a single perpetrator was linked to all of the pieces of crime scene evidence from which DNA results were obtained.
The second phase of DNA testing required the development of a genetic profile from a sample of blood provided by Kevin Cooper himself. The results of this testing established a match between Kevin Cooper's DNA and that found on the evidence from the murder scene. In scientific terms, the match between Cooper's DNA and that from the blood found in the hallway of the Ryen's home is estimated to occur at random in the population with a frequency of approximately 1 in 310 billion for African Americans. Because the current world population is 6.2 billion persons, it is statistically unlikely that another individual will have the same genetic profile as Cooper.
"DNA evidence is being used every day in California to provide justice by helping to convict the guilty and free the wrongly accused," Lockyer said. "The purpose of the state's innocence law is to give prosecutors and convicted felons the opportunity to use previously unavailable DNA evidence to determine guilt and innocence. In the case of Kevin Cooper, though it certainly wasn't the result he sought, the law worked."
The next status conference hearing in San Diego Superior Court is scheduled to take place on October 22, 2002. A copy of the DNA testing reports will also be forwarded to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which is currently reviewing a habeas corpus petition filed by Cooper in which he similarly claims innocence.