An interview with Kevin Cooper: We may be sending an innocent man to his death

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by Natasha Reid

Kevin Cooper has been locked down on death row in San Quentin for the past 26 years. He was convicted of the 1983 murder of the Ryen family, although no reliable evidence showed him to be guilty. On the contrary, the facts of the case as laid out by the Ninth Circuit Court in 2009, contain overwhelming evidence suggesting that he is in fact an innocent man:

• The only eye witness to the killings, Josh Ryen – the 8-year-old son of the family – described the attackers as three white men. Ryen’s statement was later altered, making it consistent with the prosecution’s contention that Cooper was responsible for the murder.

• Evidence was brought from a woman who told the police that her boyfriend – a white supremacist gang member and convicted murderer – came to her house on the night of the murder covered in blood. The sheriff discarded the overalls without testing the blood stains.

• The prosecution acquired another piece of evidence a few days later – a blue shirt with blood on the collar – but failed to disclose it into evidence.

• A second bloody shirt, with Cooper’s blood on it, was found to have high levels of the EDTA preservative, signaling that the blood may have been planted onto the shirt.

• Daniel Gregonis, a police criminologist working on the case, tested a blood sample from the scene that was found to be inconsistent with Cooper’s blood. His lab results were subsequently altered.

Kevin Cooper was nevertheless denied an appeal, to the dissent of five judges, and remains on death row.

The right to a fair trial in the State of California is a right no longer. Help us fight for Kevin’s constitutional right: Download and sign the petition addressed to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, demanding an appeal.

Natasha: What do you feel is the role of the public in achieving justice for your case?

Kevin: Well, it’s not the public, but organizations that are working against the death penalty that have been a help in fighting and in including society as a whole in the fight. These organizations have publicized the case in different newspapers as well as the cases of other prisoners such as Mumia.

Natasha: Activist John Sinclair was released from prison amid pressure from the community led by John Lennon. Do you feel that there has been a change in social involvement for political justice since this period? Why do you think that is and how do you think we could get back to that?

Kevin: Education is a way to get back to it. Now, there are so many distractions. So many people are caught up in their own struggles in trying to find a job, trying to pay the bills, trying to raise their kids. They don’t have the time to think about or take on a crime against humanity. People need to start taking the time to educate themselves about what is going on again.

Having said that, when people do become aware of what’s happening, they sometimes will decide to do something about it. All is not lost.

Natasha: Many would say that there is genocide of Black people in U.S. prisons. Do you agree with that?

Kevin: As far as genocide, it is true: There is a system of genocide in our prisons. We live in a capitalist society where the prison systems are based on the plantation systems. You can go back to Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which states “that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are, and henceforward shall be free,” but it is clear that, even to this day in the 21st century, 200-and-something years later, I am considered a slave and so is everyone else locked up in prison.

Slaves working on the plantations were about money and the slaves today in prison are also about money! The prisons don’t care who is locked up or why as long as their business is going well.

They take young Black men – and women – and put them in prison for long period of time which means that less Black babies are being born. All of that is genocide! It is stopping us from reproducing. And for the ones still out there on the streets, they killin’ them like Oscar Grant.

Natasha: Why do you think this message is falling on deaf ears, with nothing being done to reverse this cruelty?

Kevin: People are getting paid to keep us in here. There is plenty of money in it, there’s plenty of overtime too! That is why nobody is saying nothing, ‘cause everybody is getting paid.

Natasha: Has your attitude towards racial profiling in America’s prison system changed since your incarceration?

Kevin: No. Well, I was always aware of it but I have become more aware since being incarcerated. It gets magnified when you are in a place like this or in a criminal justice institution of any sort.

Natasha: What have been your coping mechanisms that have allowed you to continue to have hope in achieving justice for your case?

Kevin: Hope is the hardest thing to have in a situation like mine. I have hope because I believe in the people who are struggling to improve my existence. I don’t believe in this system, what I do believe in is the people who have the power to change the system.

Through educating myself, I have been able to stay out of the prison games that go on behind the walls. I am able to stay focused and stay true to my beliefs. I am, too, an abolitionist. Sometimes, it is hard to stay focused, but through education, talking to the right people and through the artwork that I do, I manage to stay focused. It’s difficult, but I believe education is the key.

Natasha: Is there any type of educational material in particular that you have found to help in your time being locked up?

Kevin: History. Especially African American history. Through the history books I read, I find answers in how I can fight the system, because all the generations that have gone before me have fought the same system. The individual people may have changed, but the system itself has not. Times haven’t changed and this system of oppression has definitely been in this country too long. It is the same system that the people originally brought to the country with them. The people getting executed back then are the same people who are getting executed now: Black, Asian, Latino and white members of the oppressed class. And it is the same people who are doing the executions: rich and elitist members of the upper middle class.

Natasha: How did it feel that day in 2004, when you were waiting to be sent to your execution?

Kevin: I still suffer from post traumatic stress. I have a thing about eating prison food now ‘cause they were always trying to get me to choose my last meal. They’d ask: “What you wanna eat for your last meal? What you wanna eat for your last meal? What you wanna eat for you last meal?” It was like a game they were playin’.

So now, I don’t like to eat prison food. I try not to eat it, I give it away. Some people confuse this as being bourgie. I got accused by another Black prisoner as being bourgie. But it is just that my eyes have been opened to a lot of these things and I’m not satisfied; these people literally tried to kill me!

I have a different outlook on this than a lot of guys. I had to learn to have faith and to believe, more so, in God on a spiritual level, ‘cause my faith in general was at an all time low at that time.

Something else happened that day, when they had me standing butt naked on that cold floor, I experienced déjà vu. I had read so many history books about what happened to my ancestors who had their bodies examined from their top of the heads to their feet, before being sold on to a plantation. I experienced the same thing! Times ain’t changed! I’m not being sent to the plantation, but instead, it’s the execution chamber.

Since that day, I ain’t scared to speak the truth. I mean, I wasn’t before, but I’m especially not now. The experience didn’t necessarily make me any braver, but it made me freer. When people want to kill you, it frees you from your fear. I used to be scared to speak out, ‘cause I was worried about what they gonna do to you when you speak out. But now I don’t care and nothing will stop me from saying what I have to say.

Natasha: Is there a general attitude towards people advocating their innocence in prison by either the wardens or other prisoners?

Kevin: You have people such as myself fighting for our lives and it’s our constitutional right to fight and to speak about whatever we want to speak about. But there are some people, both officials and inmates, who resent that for whatever reason it is. They try to make it harder for you, but if you’re determined to speak the truth, then they can’t stop you. Nothing can stop you.

Natasha: Is there anything particularly that you want to tell people about your case?

Kevin: Just that I am innocent and I will fight it. I am the only person on death row in this country who has five judges saying that this state may be about to execute an innocent man. I am the only person on death row in this country who has 11 judges saying that my case needs to be heard. I am the only person on death row in this country who has a federal circuit judge saying that I was framed. I did not receive a fair hearing and my innocence cannot be proven until I do.

Natasha: What do you think needs to happen now to get enough attention on your case and pressure on the court system, to have your case revisited?

Kevin: I don’t know. All I can do is keep giving the evidence and hope people will accept the truth. Every time we turn around, we are coming up with new evidence and eventually we gon’ put it on the table. People need to know that the system is not what it claims to be, they do what they wanna do and they do it to who they wanna do it to. That’s just the way it is.

I am the only person on death row in this country who has five judges saying that this state may be about to execute an innocent man. I am the only person on death row in this country who has 11 judges saying that my case needs to be heard. I am the only person on death row in this country who has a federal circuit judge saying that I was framed.

Natasha: Do you have a message for the California SHU hunger strikers?

Kevin: I’m in solidarity with this hunger strike. I have complete support for what you guys are doin’ and I understand why you’re doin’ it. Everybody has to truly understand what they goin’ through, respect their fight and support them. I supported the prisoners in Georgia ‘cause of the mistreatment that happened to them.

But there’s an even bigger picture going on right now. All over, different people from different lands don’t eat the same food, they don’t dress the same, they don’t speak same the language. And the hunger strike prisoners are speaking to them in a universal language that everyone can understand. They are telling the oppressor to get off their back. They are saying that they are tired of being oppressed. They are asking, “Who are you to oppress us?”

People are fighting to make better lives from themselves all over the world. Here in America, it should be easy since they say we have a “constitutional right.” And this isn’t just about civil rights, this is about human rights, and if you don’t have your basic human rights, how can you have any other type of right?

We have the right as human beings not to be oppressed by other people. In 1977, Steve Biko said: “The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” People don’t have their minds any more, and their will is there to try and get their minds back.

The California hunger strikers are asking, “Who are you to oppress us?”

I’m behind the strike. If that comes back to haunt me somewhere down the line in the criminal justice system, so be it. I’m not scared and I’m gon’ speak my mind.

Send Kevin some love and light: Kevin Cooper, C-65304, 4-EB-82, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin CA 94974.

Natasha Reid is a writer from Scotland. She holds an honors law degree, though her real passion lies in journalism and political awareness. You can contact Natasha at tash.reid7@gmail.com.

 

15 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Natasha, and thank you BayView for this great interview with Kevin Cooper.

    Kevin is one of the rare death row inmates to return from the death holding cell. His stories of standing next to the death chamber, naked and cold, while executioners examined his body are horrifying. Kevin survived that night in 2004, but suffered again at the hands of the executioners when they tortured and murdered his beloved friend, Tookie Williams.

    KC knows more than any of us what the state is capable of, but he shows no fear when he stands up and defends the hunger strikers. Kevin's struggle is literally one of life or death, and here he is putting himself in harm's way to publicly defend a group of people he's never met. How many of us would be able to find that kind of courage?

    FREE KEVIN COOPER!

  2. Not only is this guy a killer, rapist and liar but he can't even get the facts straight. Prison raced genocide? Sorry miscreant, the number one killer of blacks is other blacks. Take a look at the condemned on Texas's death row, the vast majority of blacks are there for killing other blacks. Pathetic isn't it? A black kills another black and our unjust racist society puts the killer black on death row. Gee, should have treated him to some ribs or watermelon for making America a better place, stupid white justice system!

    Oh! And Kevee, get your history straight little buddy, slavery existed for nearly 700 years before the 1st euro/slaver set foot on an African beach. Your African brothers were sold into slavery by other Africans (the one's who fetched a price were the lucky ones) too bad your relatives fetched a price (a family would still be alive). I really like this little coinky dink, you escape prison (the real slam on our system is that you weren't in a maximum security prison, kidnapper/rapist) and as luck would have, camp out in a house right next store to the home where an entire family was slaughtered! Wow! Now that's lottery odds little buddy.

    All that being said, here's the best part, you actually have Nimrods who buy it. Pathetic neo-sociopaths who could care less about the suffering and horror the likes of you and your pals put decent human beings through. Well, sooner or later you're a dead man.

    "Keep your lov'in brother happy"

    Frank

    • It really amazes me how you can be so certain this guy is a killer, rapist and liar. Were you there? Ahhh…maybe you are the killer rapist and liar. Your seething hatred for blacks makes me think you are KKK or Neo Nazi skinhead. And it makes me sick! You, sir, are an abomination. It scares me to think there are people like you out there in the world.

    • Even though Kevin Copper is imprisoned physically, the ties that bind you are unseen. You are fearful and lack control over the issues in your life that have you so conflicted. You' re able to cast dispersion so easily (albeit without any real knowledge on the subject)) on the life of another, while your life is full of sadness, fear, anger and chaos. Your own words betray you. Mr. Cooper has supporters that are helping fight his battle, I hope for your sake you have someone in your corner because you need help.

      Perhaps you can simply show somebody this post and they will see the crisis that has become your reality, Rick', your cry for help has been heard. May you get the help that you so desperately need.. I wish you the best.

  3. Natasha are you out of your mind? Not only is he a convicted murderer he was previously convicted of kidnap and rape of a girl in highschool. This poor man, being fed 3 meals a day at the tax payers expense how does he cope? The Ryen family was brutally murdered and you have the audacity to suggest cooper was framed because he's black? Hmm cooper escapes prison. Hides out in a house across from the Ryen home. 2 days later they are murdered and he flees to Tijuana the following morning in their station wagon. Poor guy was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when those "white supremacists" came by and killed that family with no motive. Retard

    • Except that he wouldn't have seen the house and secondly they DO have a motive. They were supposed to wipe out a family in a drug dispute but hit the wrong address

  4. As someone who has insight to the evidence in this case there is no doubt whatsoever Mr. Cooper is a cold-blooded murderer of a family. I don’t need to list the details of the evidence, they have been exhaustively explained over the years. Mr. Cooper has nothing else to lose but to create new ways to express his self professed innocence. He knows he’s guilty.
    Race is not nor has it ever been a factor. I am saddened every time I revisit in my mind the horrible images of that night and patiently await justice to one day be served.

  5. Cooper does not have a federal judge find that he was framed. Judge Huff's ruling was that he was not framed. The blood Cooper claims was planted did not demonstrate high levels of EDTA, proving that it was plant. That, too, is the opposite. The blood stain was tested and a minimal level of EDTA was found (110 vs. 1100 on a known sample with EDTA).

    Hairs linked Cooper to the vehicle he stole from the Ryen family after murdering Doug, Peggy, Jessica and Chris Hughes. Cigarette butts found in the car were linked to Cooper via DNA evidence. Hairs found in Jessica's hand belonged to members of the Ryen family. A drop of blood found on a wall in the Ryen house also linked Cooper to the crime scene.

    Josh Ryen's initial statement about three Mexicans was given in the hospital after he suffered severe head injuries and a slit throat at the hands of Kevin Cooper. He told police that the men had been at the Ryen house looking for work earlier in the evening, prior to the murders. Ryen also stated that he only saw one person at the time of the murders.

    • Now you're outright lying Lisa.

      1.) Judge Huff did everything short of light the constitution on fire to keep him in jail. Fletcher made mincemeat of her

      2.) Considering the uneven size of the sample, AND that gary siuzdak refused to submit his bench notes it's probable he lied through his teeth and that the blood was planted

      3.) The hair was too small to be tested and the cigarettes were only found AFTER Ogino and Stockwell failed to process cigarettes from the house. Gregonis altered his notes many times and checked the evidence out without telling anyone back in 1999. Considering his role in framing William richards only an idiot would assume he didn't plant A41.

      4.) not how memory works; INITIAL statements even when traumitized are usually more accurate; he only identified Cooper LATER. The mexicans came later AFTER don guadmondroy interviewed Josh; Also no Josh said MULTIPLE TIMES it was three men that night. He even said "THAT'S NOT THE GUY WHO DID IT" to his grandmother 2 weeks later.

      • To quote William Fletcher

        That leaves Sample 1. Sample 1 is the new sample thought to contain Cooper’s blood. It was chosen by Dr. Maddox and Mr. Myers to replace the old sample from Area 6G. Though Sample 1 supposedly contained Cooper’s blood, we cannot be sure that it did, as I explained above. Dr. Siuzdak measured an extremely high level of EDTA for Sample 1. Dr. Ballard measured only a somewhat elevated level of EDTA for Sam- ple 1. A possible, perhaps likely, reason for the disparity in their results is that Dr. Siuzdak’s piece of Sample 1 contained a great deal of Cooper’s blood, while Dr. Ballard’s piece con- tained significantly less, perhaps none. Sample 1 was an unusually large sample by comparison to the other samples. It was also irregularly shaped, unlike the other samples which were simple squares. ER 5202-03. Finally, Dr. Maddox and Mr. Myers assumed that all of Sample 1 contained Cooper’s blood. But, as noted above, they did not perform any tests on Sample 1, or its individual pieces, to confirm this assumption.
        Second, we can conclude that Dr. Siuzdak’s EDTA results are very likely valid, based on analysis of Samples 2, 3 and 4. Samples 2, 3 and 4 were supposed to be control samples that contained no blood. Instead, they almost certainly contain

        COOPER v. BROWN 5473
        significant amounts of blood. Further, it is likely that this blood was planted on the t-shirt. This may be seen if we look at both the DNA and the EDTA results for Samples 2, 3, 4 and 6. All four of these samples were taken from the t-shirt, and were supposed to have been control samples. (Sample 5 has inconclusive DNA results, so I put it to one side. Samples 7, 8, 9 and 10 are control samples that were not from the t- shirt, so I put them to one side also.)
        For Samples 2, 3, 4 and 6, we have a known amount of DNA and a known amount of EDTA. Samples 2, 3 and 4 all have significant amounts of DNA. Only Sample 6 has no DNA. For all four of these samples, there is a remarkably strong correlation between the amount of DNA in the sample and the amount of EDTA in the sample. The greater the amount of DNA in a sample, the greater the amount of EDTA in that sample. This holds true for the results of both Dr. Siuz- dak and Dr. Ballard. This may be seen in two graphs, one for Dr. Siuzdak’s results and one for Dr. Ballard’s results:"

        Also the hairs weren't all tested. Even Ed Blake conceded as much. Huff in an act of pure spite basically limited any testing PURELY to hairs tested in 02. Thereby defeating the entire purpose
        Lisa's not above lying through her teeth. She's a cop apologist in EVERY sense of the word

    • 1.) Judge Huff ignored the controls were not legit (3 had dna and one was inconclusive)
      2.) Thanks to that the EDTA is HIGHEST where the dna was high and low where dna was low
      3.) The sample that had 110 vs 1100 was unevenly sized and thus any difference could be because siuzdak got the largest chunk
      4.) The hair was too small to be tested
      5.) The cigarette butts were only found on the second search AFTER officers ogino and stockwell failed to process numerous pieces of tobacco from the house
      6.) The hairs in Jessica's hands weren't all tested (Huff limited it to hairs that had already been tested)
      7.) The blood was subject to dubious handling (Gregonis deliberately wasted the sample and falsely claimed he never opened the vial when he did)
      8.) Josh's statements were given when he would have had the clearest memory
      9.) He DID say there were three attackers
      10.) He said the attackers were NOT Mexican when Don interviewed him.

  6. To Rick it sounds like you are Klu Klux Klan. It sounds that you think every black person is guilty. Wrong every black person is not guilty. Every race have there bad people. I do feel black people are target more than any other race. Look at the police killing that going on right now in America. Who are the police killing black people and just for your record the police that are doing the killing is not black. They are one of you kkk. And next time you call yourself going to try to talk about the black people make sure you proofread before you submit

  7. This is exactly why the death penalty if not outright abolished, should be used EXCEEDINGLY RARELY. Only in cases where there are MUTIPLE CREDIBLE FORENSIC SOURCES leading directly AND INDISPUTABLY to a guilty conviction. Not in a cases such as this EVER! It’s sad so many ppl in positions of authority ate so very stupid or stubborn to admit they either made mistakes or need to have their work reviewed

  8. Guilt innocence idk, but better to err on the side of caution. Keeping him locked up for life would enable the case to remain somewhat open. If he’s dead and he’s proven innocent then what? It seems there are questions to be answered in this case.

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