An analysis of DNA evidence conducted in connection with a clemency probe was unable to exonerate Kevin Cooper, a death row inmate who made national headlines for the 1983 slaying of three members of a Chino Hills family and a neighbor boy, according to a report released Friday, Jan. 13.
In fact, test results and other evidence conducted during the probe showed that Cooper’s guilt is “extensive and conclusive,” disproving his claim at trial in 1985 that police planted DNA evidence at the scene to frame him for the grisly murders of Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 11-year-old neighbor Christopher Hughes.
“The DNA evidence corroborates the testimonial, physical, forensic and circumstantial evidence that was presented at trial, which was sufficient to persuade the jury of Cooper’s guilt even without the DNA evidence that became available later,” the report says. “Cooper has not established that the evidence of his guilt has been fabricated or planted. The evidence, including the DNA evidence itself, dispels the contention that the evidence was fabricated or planted.”
Cooper, who has maintained his innocence, applied for clemency, and Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021 ordered the investigation by the Special Counsel to the California Board of Parole Hearings to aid him in his decision.
In 2019, against opposition from prosecutors, Newsom ordered DNA testing on hairs collected from one of the victim’s hands at the crime scene, blood evidence, fingernail scrapings from the victims and a green button.
The year before, Newsom’s predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, ordered the testing of a tan T-shirt and orange towel found near the crime scene and a hatchet handle and sheath.
Cooper’s attorney at the time said he believed that testing would show that Cooper was framed, and his case has become a cause celebre, with supporters such as Kim Kardashian, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and others.
The special counsel said its retained experts also considered Cooper’s arguments that others were the “true” killers, but found no evidence to support that theory.
“Cooper has not established that others committed the Ryen/Hughes crimes,” said the report. “The contention that someone else committed the crimes is refuted by the overwhelming evidence of Cooper’s guilt, and by the absence of any DNA evidence or any other persuasive evidence that points to any other person as the culprit.”
In April 1983, Cooper was convicted of burglary in Los Angeles County and sent to the California Institution for Men in Chino. Less than two months later, he escaped from the prison and hid in a vacant Chino Hills rental house located 150 yards from the home of the Ryens, according to prosecutors. He remained at the house until the evening of June 4, 1983.
The Ryens, their daughter and the neighbor boy were killed either June 4 or 5, prosecutors have said. The Ryens’ 8-year-old son, Josh, had his throat slashed in the attack but survived.
Josh Ryen told police and hospital staff within hours of the murders that the killers were “three white men,” but Cooper is Black. Josh repeated this identification of the attackers in the days following the crimes, the clemency request noted. When he saw Cooper’s picture on television as the suspected attacker, Joshua said, “That’s not the man who did it,” according to the clemency request.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.