The state of California wants to kill Kevin Cooper
By Suzie Wasserstrom | February 6, 2004 | Page 12
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER is determined to murder California death row prisoner Kevin Cooper. But people across the state are raising their voices in various forums to send a message to the "Governator": We oppose this state-sponsored murder.
On January 30, Schwarzenegger announced that he was denying clemency for Cooper, who is scheduled to go to the death chamber on February 10. Schwarzenegger wouldn't even grant a hearing to provide public review of the evidence--making Kevin the first death row prisoner to be denied clemency without a public hearing since the death penalty was reinstated in California in 1978.
Opponents of the death penalty are refusing to accept Schwarzenegger's cynical indifference on this life-and-death issue. Activists are planning for a day of action February 3, which will include several press conferences, including one involving Rev. Jesse Jackson at Schwarzenegger's church.
Kevin's supporters across the state and the country plan to flood the governor's office with phone calls, faxes and e-mails to demand action from Schwarzenegger. A full-page ad pleading Kevin's case--and signed by hundreds of people, including Howard Zinn, Danny Glover, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Janeane Garofalo and many others--will appear in the San Jose Mercury News and the West Coast edition of the New York Times.
On January 31, some 200 supporters and community members turned out to Berkeley's First Congregationalist Church to demand justice for Cooper. Among the speakers was actor and activist Danny Glover, who told the crowd, "We are here because we consider the death penalty an immoral, cruel and unusual punishment. It's important for us to have our voices heard in whatever way we can."
Despite technical difficulties, Kevin himself spoke to the meeting via speakerphone from death row in San Quentin prison. The night before, activists gathered at San Francisco State University for a fundraiser--which featured music by Michael Franti--to pay for the ad.
"Governor Schwarzenegger wants to celebrate Black History Month by executing an innocent Black man," said Campaign to End the Death Penalty member Brian Cruz. "We can't let that happen without a fight."
On January 29, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the former boxer who spent 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, joined others to bring their message to Schwarzenegger in Sacramento. "Why is there a rush to carry out this death sentence?" Carter asked reporters. "Why can we not allow the time for this man to remain alive to prove his innocence?"
A recent statement from a juror in Cooper's original 1985 trial was read at the press conference. "Because the murders were so atrocious, and because of the devastating loss of life, at the time, I let the police misconduct go and sentenced Mr. Cooper to death," the juror wrote. "I now regret that decision."
The statement came from one of four surviving jurors who has come forward to question Cooper's sentence--and his guilt. Kevin was convicted in 1985 for the murder of Peggy, Doug and Jessica Ryen, along with their young houseguest Christopher Hughes.
The jury at the original trial never heard about important evidence--such as blond hair, which couldn't possibly belong to Cooper, who is Black, found clenched in one of the victim's hands. Meanwhile, outside the courthouse, a racist mob hanged a toy gorilla in effigy and shouted racist abuse.
Despite the pressure for a quick conviction, the details of the crime--a quadruple murder with three murder weapons that occurred in under two minutes and which a pathology expert testified would be "virtually impossible" for one person to commit--kept the jury out for almost a week.
Fourteen years later, shortly before DNA testing was to be performed, crime scene evidence was removed from a police locker by a prosecution criminologist, along with vials of Cooper's blood and saliva, and then checked back in 24 hours later. No satisfactory explanation was given for the removal, and yet the state has consistently refused to do tests that could show if the evidence was tampered with.
So it came as little surprise that the testing seemed to implicate Cooper. Cooper never received a fair trial. And both state and federal courts have refused to do anything about it.
Now Schwarzenegger is out for blood. This despite the fact that a San Francisco Chronicle readers' poll showed that 69 percent of Californians want him to stop the execution.
Abolitionists want to turn up the heat on the governor about Cooper's case with the February 3 day of action, and a march to San Quentin prison on February 9. But more and more people are committing to the long-term struggle against the death penalty.
As Cooper--himself a tireless activist who has helped to lead a campaign to abolish the racist death penalty from inside prison--puts it, "I know that the death penalty is not only about me, Kevin Cooper, but is much, much bigger. In my mind and through my eyes, this is about a system that has historically and systematically executed men, women and children who look just like me, whether from the standpoint of the color of their skin or from the standpoint of their class and background."
The fight to stop the execution of Kevin Cooper is a fight for all of us. Tell Schwarzenegger: We say no!
Here's what you can do
-- Get information on Kevin Cooper's case and details on upcoming activities from www.savekevincooper.org
-- Call the governor at 916-445-2841 and e-mail him at [email protected] to tell him why you are opposed to the execution.
-- Join a February 9 march to San Quentin Prison, or other protests planned for cities across the state. Call 510-938-2033 for details.