Kevin Cooper has been on San Quentin’s death row for 33 years for a quadruple murder he didn’t commit. As we reported in the January Focus, the legions of people who believe in his innocence include Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William A. Fletcher, former American Bar Association President Paulette Brown, at least 11 federal court judges, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
We can now add the deans of four California law schools to that list. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean at the University of California School of Law; Michael Waterstone, Dean of Loyola Law School, Los Angeles; Lisa A. Kloppenberg, Dean of Santa Clara School of Law; and John Trasvina, Dean of USF School of Law have written a letter to California Gov. Jerry Brown asking him to grant Cooper’s pending clemency petition.
“Mr. Cooper’s clemency petition does not ask you to pardon him or commute his sentence. It asks only that you order an independent innocence investigation that includes state-of-the-art DNA and other forensic testing. Crucial testing has never been done because the state and federal entities in possession of that evidence have steadfastly refused to turn it over,” they write.
The deans refer to the case of Craig Coley, whose sentence was commuted by Brown in 2017. Coley spent almost 40 years in prison for a double murder in Southern California that he didn’t commit. After he petitioned for clemency, Brown asked the parole board to investigate, several law enforcement officials, including those in the district attorney’s office, subsequently expressed doubts about his guilt, and new DNA evidence cleared him.
“In that case, you rightfully ordered an investigation in response to claims of a mishandled investigation,” they write. “Mr. Cooper now asks for the same opportunity, which is simply a chance to re-examine questionable forensic evidence and ensure the integrity of California’s judicial process before the ultimate punishment is carried out.
“Only an independent innocence investigation can prevent what may very well be the ongoing injustice of an innocent man being deprived of freedom, under threat of execution, for a crime he did not commit.”
They end by thanking the governor “for your consideration of our views.”
Cooper is one of the approximately 18 death row prisoners who has exhausted his appeals, and if California resumes executions in the wake of the state supreme court upholding Proposition 66, his execution is a real possibility.