A California death row inmate who came within hours of being executed at San Quentin State Prison in 2004 came a step closer to exhausting all possible appeals today.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the latest appeal by Kevin Cooper, 51, who was convicted of murdering four people at a ranch house in San Bernardino County in 1983.

The victims, who were hacked and stabbed with a hatchet and knife, were Doug and Peggy Ryen of Chino Hills, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and an 11-year-old houseguest, Christopher Hughes.

Another family member, 8-year-old Josh Ryen, was attacked but survived. Cooper had escaped from a nearby state prison two days earlier.

He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1985.

After completing an earlier round of appeals, Cooper was sentenced to be executed early the morning of Feb. 10, 2004.

But several hours before the execution, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco blocked the lethal injection and ordered further tests on hair and a blood-stained T-shirt.

After a federal district judge in Southern California found that the tests did not exonerate Cooper, an appeals panel upheld that conclusion and the full 9th Circuit Court by a divided vote refused to consider the case further.

Cooper then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which turned down his habeas corpus petition this morning.

His attorneys vowed to continue trying to stop the execution.

One of the lawyers, Norman Hile, said, “Time is running out.”

Hile said, “We urge any and all witnesses with information about Kevin’s case to come forward.”

A U.S. law governing death penalty appeals in federal courts severely restricts additional appeals unless significant new evidence is found.

Hile said that unless defense lawyers can block proceedings with a new habeas corpus petition, the case will now go to a judge in San Diego County Superior Court, where the trial was held, for setting of an execution date.

All executions in California have been on hold since 2006, however, until the state completes a new lethal injection protocol and receives approval from a federal judge in San Jose.

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