- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A condemned murderer whose bid for clemency has won support from celebrities including Denzel Washington was set to be executed early today, the first death penalty case for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Kevin Cooper, who was convicted in the 1983 hacking deaths of four persons, was scheduled to be executed just after midnight at San Quentin Prison after spending 19 years on death row.

Cooper has gained support from actors who oppose the death penalty, such as Mr. Washington, Sean Penn and Mike Farrell, and from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. In addition, three of the jurors who convicted Cooper called for a stay of execution so hair and blood evidence could be tested.

On Sunday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned aside two of Cooper’s legal claims. Later in the day, Cooper’s attorneys filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to block the execution. Mr. Schwarzenegger already has declined to halt the death sentence.

The last execution in California was that of Stephen Anderson in 2002, when Mr. Schwarzenegger’s predecessor, Gray Davis, refused to grant clemency.

The last California governor to grant clemency to a condemned murderer was Ronald Reagan, who in 1967 spared the life of a severely brain-damaged killer.

Cooper claims DNA evidence found at the scene, which matches his, was planted by authorities. He has asked repeatedly for renewed tests, but the courts have balked, saying there is no evidence of tampering and there is overwhelming evidence of Cooper’s guilt.

Cooper maintains a trio of murderers committed the savage attacks, said his attorney David Alexander.

Cooper’s attorneys also insisted they have new evidence in the case, producing a woman who said that on the night of the 1983 murders, she saw two men covered in blood at a bar near the scene of the killings.

About 100 opponents of the death penalty gathered Sunday near Mr. Schwarzenegger’s home in Southern California, and hundreds were planning a candlelight vigil outside the prison gates.

Cooper, 46, was sentenced to death for the murders of Douglas and Peggy Ryen, both 41, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and Christopher Hughes, her 11-year-old friend.

The San Bernardino County victims were stabbed and hacked repeatedly with a hatchet and buck knife. The Ryens’ 8-year-old son, Joshua, had his throat slit but survived.

Joshua Ryen, now a construction worker, was awakened the night of the murders by screaming and was left unconscious with a slashed throat, two hatchet wounds and two stab wounds, his attorney, Milt Silverman, told the Los Angeles Times for a story in yesterday’s editions.

“Josh wakes up from the attack in the deathly still bedroom, where the stench of blood was nauseating,” Mr. Silverman told the newspaper. “He put all four fingers in his neck to stop his bleeding while he was staring closely at his mother — dead, and covered in blood. Josh laid there 11 hours.”

Mr. Ryen hired Mr. Silverman after he and his grandmother expressed doubts that Cooper acted alone, but Mr. Silverman said his investigation left the survivor convinced that Cooper was the lone killer.

When the murders were committed, Cooper was on the run after escaping from prison, where he had been serving a four-year sentence for burglary. Authorities speculated his motive was to steal the family’s station wagon.

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