Death Penalty

ABA urges California governor to grant 'executive reprieve' to convicted murderer

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Supporting a clemency petition for a man convicted of murdering a California couple, one of their children and a visiting child in 1983, the president of the American Bar Association is urging the state’s governor to grant an “executive reprieve” until his guilt or innocence can be determined.

Although Kevin Cooper has exhausted his appeals, doubt about his guilt and a lack of meaningful review could result in an innocent man being executed if Gov. Jerry Brown doesn’t act, ABA President Paulette Brown wrote.

“Mr. Cooper’s arrest, prosecution and conviction are marred by evidence of racial bias, police misconduct, evidence tampering, suppression of exculpatory evidence, lack of quality defense counsel and a hamstrung court system,” the letter (PDF) says.

Among specific examples cited are a description by a child who survived the attack and said the perpetrators were white or Hispanic (Cooper is black) and a failure to pursue DNA testing that could exonerate Cooper.

“While the ABA takes no position on the death penalty per se, we have a strong interest in ensuring a fair and accurate justice system,” the letter says.

Cooper’s clemency petition also is supported by a multiple-judge dissent (PDF) in 2009 to a denial of a petition for rehearing before an en banc panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reports.

The dissent begins: “The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man,” and says a federal district court “failed to provide Cooper a fair hearing” and “flouted” direction from the appeals court to see that mitochondrial DNA testing was performed.

The February clemency petition also asks the governor to order all documents and physical evidence, including DNA and chemical test results, released to Cooper’s attorneys, the newspaper notes. He is represented by Norman Hile and David Alexander.

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