The Murder of Kevin Cooper

Against the Current, No. 190, September/October 2017

Kevin Cooper

AS I WRITE this to you, I am in a 4 1/2 by 11 foot long cage, with two feet between the side of the bed and the wall for me to walk in. I have been in a cage like this for most of my adult life for murders that I did not commit. I eat prison slop for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the guards look up my butt at least once a day to make sure that I don’t have contraband when I leave this cage.

I, Kevin Cooper, have been on death row in the state on California for 32 years, going on 33. I came to this place in May of 1985, and I have been fighting for my life ever since.

This modern day plantation that I am forced to live in is a very dirty and inhumane place for any human being. On February 9, 2004 I came within three hours and 42 minutes of being strapped down to the state’s death gurney, tortured with lethal poison, and murdered by the volunteer executioners who are prison guards working for the state.

While I received a stay of execution from that madness, I went on to suffer from post-traumatic stress  for years, just because I survived that sick ritual of death that this prison put me through. No human being should ever have to endure what I have, not even if they are guilty of the crime they were convicted of committing.

I, however, am innocent, and now my fate lies in the hands of Governor Brown. In this fight for my life from death row at San Quentin prison, I have asked any and every person who has read anything about my plight to look at my case with an open mind.

On February 17, 2016 Norman C. Bile, my pro bono attorney from the prestigious law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, filed in the office of California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. my petition for clemency.

I have respectfully asked Governor  Brown and any other person to look at my case with an open mind, and outside the legal box that has me close to being murdered for murders that I did not commit. Doing this is truly important, especially now that many Americans are learning the truth about America’s criminal justice system and some of the people who work within it!

People have learned that this system is dishonest, and that some of its investigators, prosecutors and judges cannot be trusted, and are more concerned with winning, or their political ideology, than with truth or justice. This is especially true in my case.

Start with the fact that for the first time within the history of the death penalty in California as well as within the history of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, eleven (11) federal circuit judges dissented in one death penalty case, and that case is mine!

Six of the 11 stated these words and others to show their concern as to why Kevin Cooper’s case should be heard on its merits before he is executed: “Public confidence in the proper administration of the Death Penalty depends on the integrity of the process followed by the State… 24 Years of flawed proceedings are as good as no proceedings at all.”

The other five judges stated these words and others to show their concern about the truth not being told in the case of Kevin Cooper:  “The State of California may be about to execute a innocent man.” A twelfth judge wrote a separate opinion stating: “Significant evidence bearing on Cooper’s culpability has been lost, destroyed or left un-pursued, including, for example blood covered coveralls belonging to a potential suspect who was a convicted murderer, and a bloody t-shirt discovered alongside the road near the crime scene…. Countless other alleged problems with the handling and disclosure of evidence and the integrity of the forensic testing and investigation undermine confidence in the outcome.”

While it’s safe to say that there have been many a judge, and many a time when certain judges have turned a blind eye to the truth and let a poor person get executed even when there were serious doubts about that person’s guilt, there haven’t been as many times when judges speak out against a possible execution.

If these twelve judges are not listened to, then what will happen to me will not be my execution, but my murder by, and at the hands of the state of California!

“Finality” or Justice?

Many judges whose political ideology allows them to ignore the truth and injustice, to allow for a sick sense of justice to apply in death penalty cases, do very much exist on damn near every court within this country. Politics, the politics of life and death, do play a very real part within this country’s criminal justice system.

This is why the Republicans in Washington would not allow for President Obama to replace Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court. This truth may never be admitted in words, but actions speak louder than words. The “Actions” are the continuing oppression of people like me who are poor and fighting for our lives from within this rotten criminal justice system.

So while “Finality” may be what certain judges are more concerned about rather than “Justice,” it’s my hope that somewhere in here someone else will also see the miscarriage of justice in my case and stand up and speak out and prevent this state from murdering me.

What makes my case unique in many ways is the fact that the federal judges are doing just that, “standing up and speaking out” against my questionable conviction — based on “all the evidence” and not just what the state claims after hiding lying destroying tampering with, withholding and manipulating the evidence!

Just because certain judges choose not to speak out, or acknowledge the truth about my case as others have, doesn’t mean I’m guilty. This truth can be said for all the people who have been exonerated for crimes that they did not commit, including murder! Certain judges in their cases upheld those bogus convictions and then closed the case.

I am respectfully asking you, no matter who you are, no matter what your religion is, or your political party, no matter what your skin color is, or your sexual orientation, no matter what your job is, or what class you’re from or anything else that makes you the individual that you are, to please get involved in this fight to save my life as well as to fight for our collective humanity.

While I may indeed be murdered by the state of California in the not too distant future, this fight isn’t just about me. It’s much, much bigger than me, or any one person. It’s about us as a people bringing an end to this historic and horrific crime against humanity that is only done against America’s poor people. especially its Black ones like me.

The Fight Today

My legal team and I have petitioned the Governor seeking clemency. But we want him to grant me a investigation so that he can learn the truth about all the police corruption in my case, as well as a clemency hearing which will also include DNA testing on certain pieces of evidence which we hope will have the real killer’s DNA on it.

We hopefully will then seek a pardon if everything works out the way we want, though I have learned from experience that things very seldom work out the way anyone wants them to.

The first thing that we are asking the Governor  is to grant me a reprieve, so that if this state restarts executions, I will not be executed. The state has me marked for death and at the top of their execution list, in part because they didn’t torture and murder me in 2004, and then because of all the attention that my case is now receiving.

Many people have signed on to a petition that can be found on my website and also be found at the Amnesty International website (

There is entirely too much sadness and pain and inhumanity inside these modern day prison/plantations to go into in any one essay. Just know that my human spirit has endured and is keeping me alive when all around me is death. I live under the threat of death each and every day, and will continue to do so until I get dead, or get out of here!

Note: Kevin Cooper is a California death row prisoner, convicted of a 1983 quadruple murder in a grotesquely unfair trial. His case was scrutinized in a June 19, 2017 New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof ( We urge our readers to support the campaign for his exoneration and freedom. You can visit the website, Facebook /freekevincooper and write to him: Mr. Kevin Cooper, C-65304-4-EB-62, San Quentin Prison, San Quentin, CA 94974.

September-October 2017, ATC 190


  1. I support you!

    I saw the 48 hours program and it seemed impossible from the start that any one man could have done that.

    1. Thank God for technology. We are able to experience first hand how the Government operates. Although we’ve read about slavery and what our ancestors had to endure. It has become surreal, story after story of being failed by our very own “system”. Which is suppose to be enforcing equality. Until we as African American parents, teachers, pastors, come together and lead by example. Educate our children the importance of their future. Society needs to stop turning a blind eye these children need guidence, it takes a village. so we can have a voice in this world. It’s only then will we have a chance. We have the knowledge and the skill in us. Began showing our young adults and children what blacks have invented. Without our gifts and talents this country would be nothing. Eventhough we receive no credit for anything we continue to endure the unjust. Let us come together once and for all and do what we can do. We can’t stop, there are so many Kevin Cooper’s. My heart goes out to you Mr Cooper I sincerely pray that your sentence is over-turned, and you are released from this ungodly nightmare. Brother I pray in the name of Jesus or which ever God you all serve that not only will you be released but that you will become that voice for us, and continue the fight until a change happens. We do not deserve to be treated the way we have. Be blessed!

  2. I am so sadden to hear that in today’s nation, we still see separation based on colour!!!! I thought we and our ancestors had worked hard to become a nation of diversity. To keep an innocent man on death row is unacceptable!!! Or the very least provide him an opportunity to fairly defend his case! I hope Kevin Cooper finds justice before it’s too late! I’m praying for the truth to be told!!!

  3. I also saw the story about Mr. Cooper on 48 hours and I knew right away that he did not commit those murders. It is indeed very sad that we live in a society where the justice system is so corrupt and where a person is judged and sentenced because of the color of their skin. I could see so much evidence just by watching the show that Kevin was innocent. My husband and I are praying that Kevin will be released.

  4. I do not believe Kevin Coopef is guilty.
    Sure hope he will be released to become free from this
    Miss judgement..

  5. Kevin Cooper, you are in my prayers. As well as the fine people who believe in you and in your innocence. Bless them for fighting for you

  6. I lived a block away from kevin in Pittsburgh. I am just finding out about all the evidence that could of very easily proved that he was not guilty. I am appalled that 3 people who committed these killing have lived their life free and clear and the police that framed him probably continue to deny justice when due. This case shows how deep systemic racism exist in our criminal system. Even with evidence all around these people continue the injustice instead of righting the wrong. They are even willing to set back and let him be executed for what they know he did not commit. I do not see how they live with their selves knowing they were willing to let an innocent man be executed, what type of beast are they and that goes for everyone who look at the facts and acted like they pointed to Kevin there is no way they though that. They were willing to execute a black man just for the hell of it.

    1. This is not right.Kevin Cooper is does not deserve to be behide bars at all.This is lazy cops ,and because he is black.Easy to arrest anyone that has any kind of record.Seems just like another Steve Avery(MAKING A MURDER).It makes me so sick to frame inocent people.God will punish the ones thst lie.Kevin Cooper will be free.God is with him&all that do not deserve to be behind bars.God be with desr.

  7. My prayers are with you Kevin…God is watching from a distance…too bad all my life you been inside that hell..

  8. Mr.Cooper with everyrhing my husband and i have read on your case their is no way you killed that family and their house guest that day
    you deserve to be free you
    Deserve to have your life back may god bless you snd keep you safe you are in our hearts and in our prayers

  9. They could ask those us who were driving northbound on Peyton when those two men diving the Ryan’s station wagon like mad men that morning….just saying…..

  10. You have evidence showing he is not your man and the tampering with the blood… l too feel for the family and their loss however you have proven tampered evidence why is it that when you get someone you think did a terrible crime you don’t look any further make the system work as it should this makes us not believe in the sysyem…

  11. I wish there was something I could to to help you Kevin, your innocent!!!!!

  12. The DNA test on Kevin Cooper’s T-shirt is scheduled to be done Summer 2019. He has been asking for the DNA test for some time but now they have agreed to do so. Stay tuned!

    Update: On January 24, 2021 Nicholas Kristof wrote a second column in the New York Times on the inconclusive results of the DNA testing on a T-shirt thought to have been worn by the killer. There wasn’t enough DNA to provide a profile. Hairs found clutched in the victims’ hands weren’t Cooper’s, but didn’t lead to a match with a suspect. The same is true for an orange towel — which produced a full DNA profile — but not Cooper’s, any of the victims nor matched to anyone else. Thirty-eight years later, Kristof throws the ball back to Governor Newsom.

    1. Dianne, the DNA TEST test will be done to hopefully prove that is NOT Mr. Coopers shirt, so until then we shall continue to call it the tan t-shirt.

  13. I just saw the documentary of Kevin Cooper. I pray he gets out because he is not guilty. Keep fighting and we’re praying for you.

  14. I agree that your background was not that of a hard-working class person. I have many questions regarding the so-called evidence that had been obtained. I learned about your case when I was then 23 years of age. And I see that your case has caught my attention yet some 47 years later.

  15. Dear Mr. Kevin Cooper, My prayers and thoughts are with you and GOD knows the truth. I pray that the DNA is done in a timely fashion & i know in my heart you are innocent of these REDICULOUS charges. I sit here after watching the 48 Hours special & saw IMMEDIATELY that NO ONE MAN could do that crime!!!

  16. I watched 48 hours today and I cannot believe just how unjust and corrupt the justice system can be! The top officials are willing to send an innocent man to death and just worry about solving a case so they look good around election time! When is the corruption going to end? I pray for you Kevin Cooper! I pray God will help these people to see your innocence and set you free from the hell you have been forced to endure. God bless you! I will look forward to hearing what comes next in your fight for justice.

  17. I am praying for you, Kevin! If ever there was a miscarriage of justice, it’s the murder charges brought against you! I’m old, I’m white, I’m a grandmother, and I love my country but, I do NOT like to see innocent men, like yourself, framed for such a horrific crime! Clearly, you are innocent! (((hugs)))

    1. I too am old,white and feel the same way.
      The moment I saw a picture of Kevin I told
      my husband that man is innocent.He did not do it.He said he didn’t think so either.Free yhis man now.He is not the one.Bless you,Kevin

  18. Hello Mr. Cooper, Thank you for your reaching out. My name is Israel D and am writing in response to your letter. I know what it’s like to be falsely accused, convicted and sentenced in a trial.And everything it takes to make an inocent person appear guilty. However as of today I am fortunate to be Free to write about it. I’m deeply sorry for your torment and pain As you mentioned no one should have to endure such inhumane circumstances. I truly believe that for some reason a higher power of some kind from some where sees fit for you to have to go through it. Obviously you must be a very strong spirited person.There is a perfect peace being instilled upon and around you to prepare your soul for the after life. “For surely the inocent must endure the heavier burden. Yet the weight of a guilty conscience is greater.” I hope one day you will have your freedom. And that those if any who persecuted the truth to justify a lie be held accountable.. I also hope my response to your words bring you Joy to know your Faith is not in vain. And that you will see how Everything is in its proper place in its exact time. Hold Fast and keep Praying for You are not Dead yet!! Stay strong God is with You and You will be home soon…Israel D

  19. Mr Cooper. I. Hope. That. The. Truth. Comes out. This. Is. Great. Miscarriage of Justice. I. Saw. Your. Heartbreaking sto . It. Broke my. Heart

  20. All I have to say is….3 people… And the hair that the girl had in her hand was not a black mans hair. Regardless of DNA how do you explain that.

  21. Best wishes all the way from the UK Kevin Cooper. The death penalty is both inhumane and outdated!, it is not a deterant to crime, or murder!, it is merely human beings of authority and power murdering folks in the names of ALL American citizens. An eye for an eye most folk believe?!, that makes them the same in my eyes as the folk they condemn!. If someone went out tomorrow and killed any of our loved ones we cannot simply say ‘Oh we’ll let’s go get these murderers and murder them’ because then we too would be thrown in jail as a MURDERER, so why are people of “authority” allowed to make such decisions?!. What we need to remember is that all law enforcement/judges are mere human beings like the rest of us… They feel, they hurt, they love, they hate, they lie …..

    Best of wishes Kevin. My prayers are with you x
    Rest in peace Doug Ryen, Peggy Ryen, Jessica Ryen and Chris Hughes.
    Prayers and love too Josh Ryen
    May justice one day be done xxx

  22. My sister and i just watched this case on t.v. what i don’t understand is why didn’t the woman at the bar run to the phone and dial 911 and report what she was seeing? And… Since she admitted seeing their faces… Why hadn’t she given a description of these three men to the police for further investigation? Why aren’t there DNA being done and given by now? What are you waiting on? My heart goes out to the family who lost their loved ones? Yes we’ve all heard the ” I’m Not Guility Plea”. It’s not right to excuse the wrong person and put them in prison for the rest of their life because it’s easier to convict then to search for the truth. All i know in the end of this life.. We have one judge and that’s God! Sooner or later the truth will be revealed! I pray that this case will be solved and healing will be met!

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