National News

Should the Case of the Death-Row Inmate Kevin Cooper Be Re-examined?

Posted May 21, 2018 11:12 a.m. EDT

Last week, Nicholas Kristof, an Op-Ed columnist at The New York Times, published a piece on what he believes to be an injustice in California — a case in which a life hangs in the balance. The Times asked Kristof to discuss reaction to his column.

Pressure seems to be growing on Gov. Jerry Brown to allow advanced DNA testing in the case of Kevin Cooper, a black man on San Quentin’s death row for the brutal 1983 murder of a white family.

After my in-depth column in the opinion section on the case, Sen. Kamala Harris has called on the governor to allow testing and so has John Chiang, the state treasurer and a candidate for governor.

As my column notes, I believe Cooper is innocent and was framed for murder by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office. What’s striking about the case is not only that the evidence against Cooper has mostly been discredited, but also that there’s growing evidence against a particular white man who also happens to be a convicted murderer (he wasn’t happy to hear from me).

Even federal judges have said that Cooper was framed. (That’s what drew my attention to him: a cri de coeur from the 9th Circuit appeals Judge William Fletcher.)

And the “ask” isn’t a pardon or commutation. It’s simply to allow advanced DNA testing of evidence, which the defense is willing to pay for. Yet Brown has so far resolutely refused to allow that testing.

I had criticized Harris for failing to allow testing when she was attorney general. But she called me after the article appeared online to say that she felt terrible about the case, and then she issued a statement calling on California and the governor to allow the testing.

The issue is getting more attention in the California press, and I hope Brown will similarly reconsider. Likewise, I’m hoping that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others will call for testing in the case.