Two days before the murders of Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 11-year-old Christopher Hughes, Cooper escaped from a nearby prison and holed up in a vacant house 125 yards below the murdered family's hilltop house. Two days after the San Bernardino sheriff's department established that Cooper had been hiding there, it locked in on him as the lone assailant despite numerous eye witness reports that implicated three, young white men as the perpetrators.
From that day forward, four days after the murders were discovered, the sheriff's department discarded information that pointed at other perpetrators, destroyed evidence that exculpated Cooper, and planted evidence that implicated him.
The justice system has failed him at almost every turn in his long, drawn-out appeal process O'Connor said If it were not for a court-ordered moratorium on executions in California over the lethal injection controversy, Cooper - with no appeals remaining - would have been executed by now. The moratorium is expected to remain in place until at least the beginning of 2013.
SCAPEGOAT provides a rare direct examination of the broken justice system in the United States where homicide detectives and district attorneys all too often become blinded by their goal of winning convictions rather than searching for justice for both the victims and the accused. The Kevin Cooper case, as Judge William Fletcher of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, is a prime example of justice gone begging.
At Gonzaga University School of Law on April 12, 2010, Judge Fletcher delivered a lecture on the subject of the death penalty, in which he said that the problems with the administration of the death penalty are widespread. To illustrate he cited the Kevin Cooper case, stating The case I am about to describe is horrible in many ways. The murders were horrible. Kevin Cooper, the man now sitting on death row, may well be - and in my view probably is - innocent. And he is on death row because the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department framed him.
The miscarriage of justice means Kevin Cooper has now spent half of his life on death row for a crime he had nothing to do with. He will be scheduled to die by lethal injection once executions are allowed to resume in California. He is, in a word, a scapegoat.
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About the Author
He was the editor of Cincinnati Magazine, an associate editor of TV Guide, and the editor and publisher on the Kansas City New Times, an alternative weekly. In 1998, he and J.J. Maloney founded the Internet site Crime Magazine.
In 2008, Lawrence Hill Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press, published his book, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal. In 2012, Strategic Media Books published his second book, Scapegoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper. Since 1997, he has been working to establish the innocence of five innocent people convicted and sentenced to life without parole in the 1988 deaths of six Kansas City firefighters and is currently at work on a book about that case.
He has been a guest speaker on the subject of our broken justice system at Santa Clara University School of Law, Southwestern School of Law - Los Angeles, Golden State University School of Law - San Francisco, Merritt College - Oakland, California, University of Pacifica McGeorge School of Law - Sacramento, Baruch College - City University of New York, City University of New York Graduate School, Trinity College - Hartford Connecticut, Central Connecticut State University - New Britain, Connecticut, and Wesleyan University - Middletown, Connecticut.
He has lived in Naples, Florida since 2001
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
O'Connor's book reads like a good novel, but unfortunately, it is a true story. He draws a through picture of the landscape, the crime, the family and the accused. He is an excellent researcher, painting a detailed picture of the framing of Kevin Cooper - with the police ignoring and discarding information and evidence leading to the real murderers. Very well investigated, he takes a complicated case and explains,to paraphrase Judge Fletcher, (the 9th Circuit Court Judge in his dissent), how the district court impeded and obstructed, and set unreasonable conditions on testing, refused discovery and limited testimony. I hope it can be a useful tool to free an innocent man as well as to shine a light on a legal system where resources are stacked against poor defendants and result in the wrong people being put away.
True crime fans and those who care about justice must read this thrilling book. O'Connor has shown racism as a motivating factor in deciding Kevin Cooper's guilt. He shows how difficult, if not impossible, it would be for Cooper to brutally murder a family all alone. He spells out each misstep the police and DA make in building their case. Fascinating reading!
This is a meticulous account of a brutal quadruple murder and the framing of an innocent man for it. The San Bernardino County Sherrif's Office conspired to pin the crimes on Kevin Cooper, an escaped inmate who had the misfortune of hiding in a nearby house. It seems that this sort of thing didn't happen in the rural Chino Hills area, and the police were under pressure to find somebody to charge; Kevin Cooper was a black criminal, but the amount of physical evidence that did not point to him as the cuplrit (as well as the evidence later planted to implicate him) is staggering. After reading the account of the crime scene I do not know how anyone could think that these murders were committed by a single person, and indeed the only surviving eyewitness as well as neighbors saw three men at or near the crime scene. Kevin Cooper has been denied an appeal thus far and now sits on death row until executions are resumed in CA; hopefully this book will help his attorneys in their quest for a new trial. This is a exhastively researched account of the crime, the police misconduct and the shockingly unjust trial that Cooper received. Highly recommended for anyone interested in criminal (in)justice, racism, and the death penalty .
Kevin Cooper is Innocent on California's Death Row! A recent book makes a compelling case. share By: Dan Sharber This is a review of Scapegoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper by J. Patrick O'Connor, published in 2012 by Strategic Media Books. Kevin Cooper is an innocent man on death row in California. And if you have been around the anti-death penalty movement for any amount of time, you most likely know this or have at least heard of Kevin Cooper. Now, thanks to the spellbinding new book, Scapegoat, by J. Patrick O’Connor, many, many more people will hopefully know his story too. This book is fantastic for a few different reasons. The first is that O’Connor is simply a talented writer. He uses the facts of the story to reconstruct it in such a way as to build a tension-filled legal thriller in the vein of John Grisham. But unlike a Grisham novel or other true crime books of this ilk, O’Connor doesn’t just relay the story, he also spends a lot of time critiquing events and pointing out where things went wrong. This elevates the book above the level of a garden-variety true crime story and situates it firmly in the realm of political critique of the criminal justice system. O’Connor’s strength is his unwillingness to simply let the facts of the mishandling of Cooper’s case speak for themselves and rather to hammer home the police misconduct, the prosecutorial shenanigans and Cooper’s own defense attorney’s screw ups. Mainly, this is a simple story of racist scapegoating at its worst. On the morning of June 5, 1983, Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and Christopher Hughes were found dead in the Ryen home. They had been chopped with a hatchet, sliced with a knife, and stabbed with an ice-pick. Josh Ryen, the 8-year-old son of Douglas and Peggy, had survived though his throat had been cut. It is important to note right away two things about this uncontested account. First, one person could not possibly have wielded that many weapons and subdue that many people. It is not humanly possible. And secondly, the only living witness Josh Ryen, initially said that Cooper was not the killer even telling a social worker in the emergency room that the murders were committed by 3 or 4 white men. The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department deputies who responded to the call decided almost immediately that Kevin Cooper was the likely killer because he had admittedly hidden out in the vacant Lease house next door to the crime scene for two days (leaving on June 4th) and because he was a convenient black man in largely white San Bernardino. As anyone reading this will already know, the criminal justice system and specifically the application of the death penalty is full of racial bias. This bias extends not only to the race of the defendants singled out for death sentences but also to the race of the victim. African Americans are 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 42 percent of prisoners on death row. In Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Maryland, and in the U.S. military and federal system, more than 60 percent of those on death row are Black; Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Ohio all have death rows where more than 50 percent are African American. Although Blacks constitute approximately 50 percent of murder victims each year, 80 percent of the victims in death penalty cases were white, and only 14 percent were Black. The cards were stacked against Cooper before his name was even known. Likewise, the misconduct in this case also began even before Cooper was pegged as the perpetrator. In a shocking example of prosecutorial overreach, the District Attorney, Dennis Kottmeier had the crime scene torn down after only a couple of days of investigation. This prevented any experts from reconstructing or reenacting what happened that night in the Ryen’s home. Further, even the little bit of forensic work that was done was totally botched and contaminated at every stage of the process. O’Connor does an especially good job of pointing out the shocking level of incompetence of both the police force and the District Attorney’s office, even prior to the racist scapegoating that occurs once they discover Cooper was in the area. It is then that things really heat up. Evidence is now pretty conclusively planted in the nearby house Cooper hid in. A blood-stained khaki green button identical to buttons on field jackets issued at the state prison from which Cooper escaped was found on the rug at the Lease house; a hatchet covered with dried blood and human hair that was found near the Ryens' home was missing from the Lease house, and the sheath for the hatchet was found in the bedroom where Cooper had stayed. These two pieces of evidence appeared a day after the house had been searched and no such evidence had been found. Both the button and the sheath were clearly planted in the Lease house. It was established at trial that the prison jacket Cooper was wearing was tan, not green. And it was never established that the sheath matched the hatchet that was used in the crime The tragedy though is not simply that Kevin Cooper could be executed for a crime he didn’t commit but also that the Ryen family murders have not be solved and the perpetrators are still at large. The local police had access to evidence and multiple accounts from witnesses at various times pointing to a group of (3 – 4 white) men who were most likely the killers. Because this didn’t conform to their hardened view that Cooper was the murder, they disregarded all of it. What’s more, the police even went so far as to destroy evidence. While destroying exculpating evidence by crooked cops is probably not all that uncommon, the disregard they show for finding the real killer is shocking. Shortly after the murders, a woman came forward saying she thought her (white) boyfriend was involved, as he had left a pair of bloody overalls at her house. It took many efforts on her part to merely get the police interested enough to come and pick up the overalls and interview the witness. However instead of using this new lead to expand the search away from Cooper, the police destroyed the overalls - what was likely the largest single piece of exculpatory evidence in their possession. This witness also claimed that a hatchet was missing from her garage. In a recent interview with Prison Radio, O'Connor pointed out that "while Cooper’s trial was in progress, an inmate in a California prison told prison authorities and a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s detective that his cellmate had confessed to the Chino Hills murders, stating it was an Aryan Brotherhood hit but the three killers had gone to the wrong house." At this point the case just gets totally absurd. The defense attorney, David Negus, clearly did not know what he was doing and made mistake after mistake both procedurally and argumentatively. Even with a large amount of tainted evidence and clear misconduct on the part of the police and the DA’s office, Negus still did not put together a coherent defense. Cooper was unsurprisingly convicted and sentence to death row. But the misconduct isn’t over. Clearly Cooper had some solid grounds for appeals but those too were thwarted at every turn - from the incompetent police lab techs willfully destroying evidence (only to find it again when it served their case) to the appellate judge maliciously denying Cooper all sorts of legal maneuvers for no other reason than spite. Overall, I, even as a seasoned anti-death penalty, anti-police activist, was shocked at the level of unfairness, corruption and general incompetence that riddled this case. There is so much more to discuss on this case that I do not have the space to get into here. Suffice it to say, this book is well worth reading. It gives an inside view of not just how one man was railroaded and could be murdered by the state for a crime he didn’t commit, but it’s also a glimpse into the very real way that this racist scapegoating happened and continues to happen throughout the criminal ‘justice’ system. Get mad and then get involved!