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California DA urges denial of more DNA testing in brutal 1983 hatchet killings

More than three decades after a jury convicted Kevin Cooper of a brutal hatchet attack that killed members of a Chino Hills family and a young boy staying with them, Cooper and his advocates still are fighting the conviction.
In the latest request, the death row inmate is seeking clemency and further testing, such as Touch DNA testing, to be performed on evidence including the murder weapon, the hatchet sheath, a T-shirt and the prison button — items that were presented at trial and have undergone previous testing.
San Bernardino County prosecutors announced their opposition to Cooper’s request in a statement released Monday and called on Gov. Jerry Brown to respect the decisions of the jury, the trial judge, California Supreme Court and other courts that have reviewed the case.

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“The families of the victims and the surviving victim have waited patiently for thirty-five years for justice in this case,” District Attorney Michael Ramos said in the statement. “They have endured not only the loss of their loved ones but also the repeated and false claims from Cooper and his propaganda machine designed to undermine public confidence in the just verdict.”
Portrait of Doug and Peggy Ryen with their daughter Jessica, 10, and son Joshua, then 8-years-old. Joshua was the only survivor of the 1983 incident.<br />(File courtesy photo, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG) 
The bloody June 4, 1983 attack for which Cooper was convicted and sentenced took the lives of Doug and Peggy Ryen; their 10-year-old daughter Jessica; and neighbor Chris Hughes, 11, who was staying overnight at the Ryens’ home. The boy was a friend of the Ryens’ 8-year-old son Joshua, who suffered a slashed throat but survived the attack.
Mary Ann Hughes, the mother of Chris Hughes, said Monday that she appreciates that Ramos has advocated and been there for the victims and their families.
“Too much seems to be about the criminals, and we forget about the victims,” Hughes said. Cooper’s conviction has been completely upheld, she said, and the latest move for more investigation is coming from anti-death penalty advocates.
“Unless you’re a victim, you don’t know how important it is to have someone who is reaching out to help because it’s the right thing to do and they believe in the judicial system,” said Hughes.
Hughes also said this latest effort is happening because Brown is leaving office soon.
“All we can hope is that he (Brown) looks at the facts,” she said.
In February, four law school deans asked Brown to open an independent investigation into Cooper’s case and grant a clemency petition that would put his case temporarily on hold during the investigation.
Cooper’s attorney, Norman Hile of Orrick Herrington and Sutcliffe LLP, said all they’re asking for is to allow advanced, state-of-the-art DNA testing to be completed — the type of testing not available when Cooper went to trial. Hile pointed to the recent identification of the Golden State Killer through advanced DNA testing.
“Why wouldn’t we want it done before executing someone who may be totally innocent?” Hile said.
Cooper, 60, has exhausted all appeals from his 1985 conviction and sentencing and could be one of the first prisoners executed if California resumes the death penalty. He has maintained his innocence.
Kevin Cooper listens during his preliminary hearing in Ontario in November 1983 for the murders in Chino Hills in June of 1983. (Staff file photo by Walter Richard Weis, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG) 
Cooper’s trial took place before the use of Touch DNA testing, which analyzes skin cells left behind on evidence, but prosecutors say it can’t provide relevant information in this case or exonerate Cooper, according to the statement.
The hatchet and protective sheath were touched by the owners of the hideout house — a place near the Ryen’s home where Cooper stayed upon first escaping from prison — their families, visitors and guests whenever the hatchet was used to chop firewood. Consequently, many people have touched the exhibits outside of laboratory conditions, prosecutors say.
Ramos said, in the statement, this is another attempt by Cooper to avoid punishment.
For decades, San Bernardino County prosecutors have been fighting Cooper’s case in the courts, Ramos said.
“Every judge has said this man is guilty. He is not innocent,” Ramos said.
The type of DNA testing that Cooper seeks is not going to help anyone, according to the district attorney. The hatchet was touched by many civilians. There’s unknown DNA on it.
“We call it a red herring,” he said.
Ramos said he believes Brown will do the right thing and deny Cooper’s request.
The case has been reviewed by the California Supreme Court, which determined the evidence showed Cooper’s guilt. Prosecutors say the hatchet, button and T-shirt were subjected to serological testing in 1983-84 and DNA testing in 2002.
In 2001, prosecutors agreed that Cooper should get post-conviction DNA testing. His own DNA expert participated in selecting the items to be tested.
DNA testing was conducted in 2001 and 2002, and the results did not exonerate Cooper. The testing showed he was in the Ryens’ home at the time of the murders, that he smoked cigarettes in their station wagon after he stole it, and that his blood and the blood of at least one victim was on a T-shirt found by the side of a road leading away from the murders, according to prosecutors.
Cooper’s execution was stayed in 2004 when he argued that a simple scientific test and further examination of some of the evidence would show he is innocent. He received the additional scientific testing and expert examination of physical evidence collected in the case.
Despite Cooper’s claims that the tests and examination would show his innocence, a federal judge determined that Cooper alone was responsible for the deaths.
Hile, Cooper’s attorney, described Ramos’ statement about the DNA testing as inaccurate.
“It implies that there has been much DNA testing, and that’s not true,” Hile said. The only time there was DNA testing was in 2002, and for the testing done in 2004, we proved the results were falsified, he said.
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Hile said they showed the DNA tests of the T-shirt that was found near the crime scene was planted by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, who investigated the killings.
“There hasn’t been DNA testing since then, and more importantly, there hasn’t been testing at any time with the technology available today,” Hile said.
With advanced DNA testing, Hile said they could find out who had worn the T-shirt — something that could not be shown in 2002. It would show that Kevin Cooper was not the culprit, he said.
“Why wouldn’t Mike Ramos want to get to the truth in this case?” asked Hile.
Staff writer Richard De Atley contributed to this report.

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