LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) – California Gov. Gavin Newsom Friday issued an executive order for more DNA testing in the case of a man who was convicted of brutally murdering a Chino Hills family of three and their neighbor in 1983.
Newsom ordered that DNA testing be conducted on hairs, a blood vial, a blood drop, fingernail scrapings collected from the victims and a green button in the clemency application of convicted killer Kevin Cooper.
“I take no position regarding Mr. Cooper’s guilt or innocence at this time,” Newsom wrote in the order.
Cooper was found guilty of using a hatchet, knife and ice pick on June 4, 1983, to murder Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and their 11-year-old neighbor Christopher Hughes. The four were found dead in the Ryen’s home.
The Ryen’s 8-year-old son Josh survived a slashed throat.
Cooper, who had escaped from a nearby prison days earlier, acknowledged hiding in a house next door but denied killing them. He claims police took his blood and planted it on a T-shirt and in the home.
The now 61-year-old Cooper was eventually placed on death row. He is currently incarcarated in San Quentin State Prison.
In December, then Gov. Jerry Brown issued his own executive order in Cooper’s clemency application, calling for DNA testing of a tan t-shirt, an orange towel, a hatchet handle and a hatchet heath.
Brown wrote that the purpose of the new testing is to determine whether DNA of any other identifiable suspect is on the items. If the tests reveal no new DNA or some that cannot be traced to a person, “this matter should be closed,” Brown wrote.
Newsom’s order simply adds more items to that list.
Prosecutors have long purported that prior DNA testing has upheld his conviction. In a statement Friday, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson expressed its disappointment at Newsom’s executive order.
“This Office concurs in the jury’s verdict as well as the rulings of the trial judge, the California Supreme Court, and the reviewing Federal Courts,” Anderson wrote. “Post-trial evidentiary hearings and previous additional DNA testing have all confirmed Mr. Cooper is solely responsible for the murders of Douglas Ryen, Peggy Ryen, Jessica Ryen, Christopher Hughes, and the attempted murder of Joshua Ryen. Prior DNA testing that Mr. Cooper sought, agreed to and claimed would exonerate him have all confirmed Mr. Cooper’s guilt and that Mr. Cooper’s allegations of evidence tampering were unfounded.”
In the early 2000s, the state conducted DNA tests on evidence from the case. The results matched Cooper. Prosecutors at the time argued the tests proved Cooper had been in the home of the Ryens, smoked cigarettes in their stolen station wagon, and that Cooper’s 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.
Cooper’s attorneys contended that investigators planted evidence to frame his client, a young black man who escaped from a nearby prison east of Los Angeles two days before the murders.
Cooper’s scheduled execution in 2004 was stayed when a federal appellate court in San Francisco called for further review of the scientific evidence, but his appeals have been rejected by both the California and U.S. supreme courts. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger twice denied Cooper’s clemency petitions.
California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)