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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  • cedichou

    I don’t get why public funding of such executions is not as violently opposed by sanctity-of-life people as public funding of abortion. Nor why opponents of death penalty don’t get the same respect in the media as opponents of abortion. It’s even more amazing that in times of budget crisis, when the cost analysis is clear and commuting death sentences into life sentences would save $$$, it’s still a political non-starter.

  • babysoft777

    After a quarter century, all we know for sure is Kevin Cooper walked away from a low-security prison a short time before a heinous murder was committed. Evidence of witness tampering, evidence tampering, and this may have been an inside hit ordered by the Arien Brotherhood, make the dissenting Judge Fletcher, a conservative in most decisions start his incredible unraveling of the evidence with “California may be about to kill and innocent man.” This is not someone else’s problem, this our problem. Executions are done in the name of the “People of the State of California.” Reading the 100+ page dissent from the 9th Circuit makes the best of John Grisham look mediocre. How can one possibly justify the death penalty when after 25 years, this is the best we can do? Please consider reading the opinion, don’t just take my word, then get involved in opposing executions in California, and start supporting spending those dollars on preventing crime before it happens.

    We spend $250,000 per juvenile in CYA p/year, and $50,000 per mainline prisoner. Does it take a rocket scientist to know that those dollars invested in kids and schools would be better invested up front? Look at the correlation between high school graduation rates and homicides, and for a lot fewer dollars invested in keeping kids in school we could put a serious stop to crime, and really support ending future victims.


  • ChanceEdwards

    “California may be about to kill and innocent man” — this was an interesting read i am curious to see how this all pans out!

    Defense Lawyer San Francisco