portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts oregon & cascadia

police / legal

California Death Penalty: Next Victim: Kevin Cooper

If the state has its way, Cooper will be executed Feb. 10. The African American man was convicted of murdering three members of the Ryen family and their houseguest in Southern California in 1985. In his time on death row, Cooper has spoken and written against the racist death penalty and prison system.
Calfornia's prison-industrial complex
Kevin Cooper slated for next execution

By LeiLani Dowell
San Francisco

As people gather on Jan. 19 in San Francisco to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., banners and placards will be raised in support of Kevin Cooper.

If the state has its way, Cooper will be executed Feb. 10. The African American man was convicted of murdering three members of the Ryen family and their houseguest in Southern California in 1985. In his time on death row, Cooper has spoken and written against the racist death penalty and prison system.

Several recent articles in the big-business press have highlighted the crisis of the U.S. prison system. Nowhere does this have more impact than in California. Accord ing to the Legislative Analyst's Office, California annually spends more on prisons--$5.1 billion--and incarcerates more people--over 160,000--than any other state.

California has built 23 prisons since 1980, but just one university.

While the 65 executions that took place in the United States in 2003 were exclusively in the South (89 percent) and Midwest (11 percent), California has the distinction of having the largest number of people on death row--640. Even Texas has fewer prisoners on death row.

Prison labor is big business

What motivates California to invest so heavily in its prison-industrial complex? The answer lies in the excessive amount of profit to be made by private corporations--all on the backs of prisoners.

A map on the State of California Web page lists some 60 service, manufacturing and agricultural industries that use prison labor in California: license plates, coffee roasting, knitting mills, meat cutting and laundry services, to name a few. You can even order prisoner-made goods and services from the California Prison Industry Authority's online catalog!

Another example: "PIA's Digital Services Enterprise provides a variety of custom global position maps and related services to help governmental agencies to plan for a variety of contingencies"--vivid evidence of the connection between the war at home and abroad.

While the PIA touts these as "productive work assignments to reduce idleness and improve job skills," it really is nothing but slave labor, especially when you consider that in 2002 California's prison population was 73.7 percent people of color.

Prisons as 'mental health clinics'

The Nov. 1 New York Times reported that the Los Angeles County Jail, with 3,400 mentally ill prisoners, serves as the "largest psychiatric inpatient institution" in the U.S.--yet it's really more of a holding pen, where illnesses are not treated and are allowed to fester.

The harsh conditions of prison life only exacerbate prisoners' mental illnesses. Frequently the response of administrators and prison guards isn't treatment, but solitary confinement.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget for 2004-2005 would cut $438 million from youth and adult prisons--the first time in years that a cut in prison spending has been proposed. However, it also proposes a moratorium on the creation of new Adult Day Health Care centers and the expansion of current ones.

According to the State of California site, these centers "provide programs ... for developmentally disabled and/or mentally disabled adults in a day care setting. ... Persons served are at risk of being placed in a facility or an institution if services are not provided."

In addition, cuts in prison spending will likely amount to cuts in services for the prisoners. On Jan. 1, inmate visitation days were cut in half in most California correctional institutions. Already sparse prisoner health services are endangered.

The cuts in prison spending accompany a long list of cuts in social services proposed by Schwarzenegger.

As fewer social services are available for people on the outside, and desperation grows, so does the likelihood of more poor people and people of color ending up in prison.

The crowding of prisons with mentally ill people--as many as one in five, according to a Human Rights Watch study--is a national phenomenon.

Given this state of affairs, the Jan. 6 legal lynching of mentally ill Charles Single ton was not surprising. With court permission, the state of Arkansas forcibly medicated Singleton to make him "sane" enough to execute. (Sunday Times of South Africa, Jan. 10)

Next victim: Kevin Cooper

The state of California is set to make Kevin Cooper its next victim on Feb. 10.

The case for Cooper's guilt was dubious from the start. Joshua Ryen, the sole witness to his family's murder, told police there were three killers and that they were all white or Latino men. One of the victims, 10-year-old Jessica Ryen, was found with a clump of blond hair in her hand. Both Joshua and his grandmother have questioned Cooper's conviction.

An expert from the American Board of Pathology stated that it was impossible for the 159 wounds, 28 fractures and two amputations to have been inflicted by one person. But the prosecution insisted that Cooper used a hatchet, ice pick and knife to commit the crimes, all in 60 to 90 seconds.

A racist frenzy surrounded the trial. Crowds near the courthouse hung a toy gorilla in effigy and held signs with racial epithets.

At the very least, there is evidence that Cooper's case should be immediately reopened and the execution halted.

For example, Diana Roper in Chino approached police with a pair of bloody coveralls that her boyfriend, Lee Furrow, came home in the morning of the murders. She stated that a brown t-shirt found near the murder scene matched one that he owned. Furrow's hatchet was missing from her home as well. Police assigned to the case threw the bloody coveralls away.

A prison inmate who was not incarcerated when the murder took place confessed to his cell mate that he had participated in the murders, and had accurate information that had not been reported in the press. This prisoner had Diana Roper listed as his emergency contact.

Cooper won the right to a DNA test after a three-year fight. The blood tested was determined to be his. But Cooper and his lawyers were unaware that a portion of the evidence had been removed for 24 hours by a criminologist who admitted to changing test results. Despite this blatant tampering, the state has used Cooper's DNA test to seal his conviction in stone.

On Jan. 11, Cooper petitioned Governor Schwarzenegger for new DNA testing to prove his innocence. To learn more about Cooper's case and to get involved in the struggle to free him, visit www.savekevincooper.org.

Legal lynching epidemic

The Death Penalty Information Cen ter's 2003 Year End Report states: "As has been the case for many years, those executed [in 2003] were almost exclusively guilty of murdering a white victim--only 18 percent of those executed were convicted of murdering a black person--des pite the fact that blacks are victims in about 50 percent of murders in the U.S. In 2003, no white person was executed exclusively for the murder of a black person."

The prison system and death penalty show that the U.S. government's domestic policy mirrors its foreign policy of making people of color and the poor disposable.

By criminalizing those with mental illnesses, taking jobs away from union workers and replacing them with prison slave labor, and committing modern-day lynchings through legal executions, the prison system is a fundamental part of the domestic war on the poor, people of color and the whole working class.

Dowell, a Workers World Party member, is the Peace & Freedom Party candidate for the 8th Congressional District in San Francisco.

Reprinted from the Jan. 22, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

From an earlier post at:  http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/01/278700.shtml

This Is Not My Execution by Kevin Cooper

I, Kevin Cooper, am writing this from death row at San Quentin Prison. I am scheduled to be the next Black man executed by the state of California on February 10th, 2004.

While I am an innocent man about to be murdered by this state, I realize that innocence makes no difference to the people who control the criminal justice system, including this prison. This is the same system that has historically and systematically executed men, women and children who look just like me, if only because they can.

While it is my life that will be taken, and my body filled with poison, I will not say that this is my execution! That's because it is not, it is just a continuation of the historic system of capital punishment that all poor people all over this world have been and are subjected to.

To personalize this crime against humanity as "my execution" would be to ignore the universal plight, struggle and murder of poor people all over this planet we call Earth. This I cannot and will not do!

I will be murdered by the state with my understanding that this crime of evil is something that happens to men like me in this country. Especially when we are convicted (wrongfully, in my situation) of killing white people!

If I must be murdered by the state, then I will do so with my dignity in tact. This guilt that the criminal justice system has put on me will be questioned by anyone and everyone who finds out the whole truth of this case.

In Struggle
From Death Row
At San Quentin Prison

Kevin Cooper


Save Kevin

The state's case against Kevin Cooper is full of holes, and he has always maintained his innocence. There are also issues of racism, poverty, and police misconduct in this case. Here are just a few of the facts:
Clumps of long, blonde hair were found in the hands of one of the victims. Photographs of this hair were never shown to the jury.
At least three weapons were used in the brutal murders, indicating multiple perpetrators. Prosecutors were unable to account for this, claiming that Kevin Cooper acted alone.
Hostile, racist demonstrations were held near the courthouse after Kevin Cooper was taken into custody. At one demonstration a toy gorilla was hung in effigy.
A pair of bloody coveralls was submitted to the police by a woman claiming that they had been left at her house by her boyfriend, who she believed was involved in the murders. Police records show that the coveralls were deliberately disposed of in a dumpster by the police without any testing.
Samples of evidence used to tie Kevin to the crime were in the possession of police investigator without court supervision or knowledge of the Kevin's defense team. The State fought testing of these samples for years, yet suddenly allowed testing after the samples were handled by police investigators. Further tests could be done to identify the person matching the blonde hair and also to see whether the evidence was tampered with, but the state is refusing to do these tests.
Kevin Cooper's case represents all of the flaws of the death penalty. He is an active participant in the anti-death penalty movement. The state of California is planning another unjust execution, and we need a movement to stop it.

Save Kevin

--Call or E-mail Governor Schwarzenegger (916-445-2841,  governor@governor.ca.gov) and tell him why you oppose this execution
--Sign our petition, and collect signatures at your school, church, or workplace
--Come to the next organizing meeting, Jan 5th at 6pm, AFSC Office, 65 Ninth Street, San Francisco
--Protest this execution! We have planned for a day of action one week before the execution February 3rd in San Francisco and Sacramento. If the execution happens, join us and march on San Quentin!
--Get on the Save Kevin Cooper e-mail list, or get more information!
Call 510-895-0332 or e-mail  savekevincooper@yahoo.com

citizen unbound

capital punishment will not stop until the common people can understand that we are all victims of our genetic propensities - willpower is the biggest myth in pop-psychology.
is he guilty? 21.Jan.2004 12:39

did he do it?

Having a date with old sparky suggests he was out murderin' again. What was the race of his victims? Seems there lay the racist act.

read the article 25.Jan.2004 01:56

racism is everywhere

Why don't you actually read the article. This is a black guy convicted of crimes that the only witness says were done by white and Mexican guys.