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In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many r…

California: Leave no evidence behind in Cooper case

Kevin Cooper
In 1983, Kevin Cooper was convicted of a brutal quadruple murder in San Bernardino County and sentenced to death.

In the years since, the chain of events that led to his conviction has come under fire from law enforcement veterans, a U.S. federal judge, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and even some of the original jurors for his trial.

"The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man," wrote Judge William Fletcher, of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a blistering dissent against the court's decision not to hear Cooper's appeal.

The discrepancies in the Cooper case are deeply disturbing. Yet all Cooper has asked for is a reprieve of his execution and a new investigation into his case, including modern DNA testing.

There is reason to believe a new investigation could clear him of the murders.

There is no reason for Gov. Jerry Brown to continue holding off on ordering a new test.

The murders for which Cooper was convicted are the stuff of nightmares. Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, and an 11-year-old house guest were hacked to death with a hatchet in their home in Chino Hills. Cooper, who had escaped from a nearby prison where he was serving a burglary sentence and was hiding in a home close by, looked like an obvious suspect.

Yet the then-8-year-old Josh Ryen, who survived being stabbed in throat, originally communicated to a social worker that he'd seen 3 or 4 white men attacking him and his family. Cooper is black.

Another potential witness told officers that her boyfriend, a convicted murderer named Lee Furrow, had clothes and a hatchet that matched descriptions of items at the murder scene. Police destroyed a pair of Furrow's bloody coveralls without testing them.

Other problems with the case, including questionable forensics, all point to the need for new testing.

Cooper came within hours of execution in 2004. One of the major reasons he's still alive is an unrelated court challenge to the state's death penalty procedures. Legal experts are anticipating a resumption of California's death penalty soon.

Our editorial board has long argued that reasonable doubts about the Cooper case should stop the state from executing him.

There's new pressure on Gov. Brown to allow advanced testing, thanks to California's presumed resumption of the death penalty and to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who recently pored over the case and argued that Cooper probably was framed by the San Bernardino sheriff's office.

Last week, California's Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, who ignored Cooper's pleas when she was state attorney general, came out in favor of new DNA testing.

The governor should do the same.

Brown's office says the case is very complex, which it is. The governor received a clemency petition from Cooper's lawyers in February 2016, and his office says it's under review.

The governor has had years to make a decision on this case. Time is running out.

Brown has been proudly opposed to the death penalty for decades. If his opposition is sincere, he'll stop hesitating. What's at stake is the life of a man who could be innocent.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, Editorial, May 31, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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