Wednesday, October 9, 2002
Convicted Killer’s Attorney Alleges Evidence Tampering In DNA Test That Appears to Confirm Client’s Guilt
By J'AMY PACHECO, Staff Writer
The appellate attorney representing convicted San Bernardino County murderer Kevin Cooper has accused local law enforcement officials of evidence tampering after DNA test results released by the state Attorney General’s Office appeared to confirm his client’s connection to the grisly slayings.
Cooper is on Death Row for the 1983 murders of Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, and an 11-year-old family friend who was spending the night with the Ryen family in their Chino Hills home. Cooper was also convicted of attempting to murder the Ryen’s then-eight-year-old son, who survived.
He is the first Death Row inmate to ask for DNA testing under a two-year-old law which gives convicted felons the right to request testing to support claims of innocence.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer and San Bernardino District Attorney Dennis Stout last week announced that testing was performed on a drop of blood found in the Ryen home, two cigarette butts found in the Ryens’ vehicle (which was believed to have been used as the getaway vehicle), and a bloodstained t-shirt found near the Ryen home.
Lockyer said DNA tests indicated a single person was linked to each of the items tested, and indicated Cooper was that person.
But Burbank attorney Robert Amidon on Monday said a Sheriff’s Department criminalist checked out the evidence in the Cooper case in August 1999, after Cooper began demanding DNA testing on that evidence. Amidon said records indicate the criminalist held the evidence for 24 hours, and “lied” to prosecutors when he claimed to have accessed it for only 10 minutes.
He also questioned the validity of a drop of blood identified as Cooper’s and found in the Ryen home, where “gallons of blood” had been spilled, stating that the investigator who found the blood drop was fired for stealing evidence in another case but never prosecuted.
Cooper’s attorneys filed a motion in San Diego Superior Court charging evidence tampering, and are awaiting a hearing on the issue, he said. Cooper’s criminal attorney, Bill McGuigan, could not be reached for comment.
San Bernardino Chief Deputy District Attorney John Kochis, who was one of the original prosecutors on the Cooper case, on Monday rejected charges of evidence tampering.
The evidence used in the DNA testing has been in the custody of the San Diego Superior Court since 1984, he said.
“Our position is that it has been maintained and stored properly,” Kochis asserted. “Our position is that there has been no tampering.”
The case was prosecuted by then-District Attorney Dennis Kottmeier. He could not be reached for comment.
Amidon also criticized the Attorney General’s Office for not performing “mitochondrial testing” on hair found clutched in the victims’ hands. That hair, he asserted, would point to “the real killer.”
Kochis said the genetic material required to perform that type of DNA testing was not found on the hair.
Amidon blasted the Attorney General’s Office for releasing the results to the media before notifying Cooper’s attorneys.
“It was a surprise to us that the Attorney General and others would make such a statement without contacting us in advance,” Amidon said. “We learned about it in the press.”
The murders took place on June 5, 1983, in an affluent area of San Bernardino County. On June 2, Cooper escaped from the California Institute for Men in Chino and spent two days hiding in a vacant house next door to the Ryen home.
Court documents indicate a bloodstained button found in the vacant house likely came from a prison-issue jacket, and said blood was found in the shower and sink at the vacant home. Additionally, hair that likely came from the Douglas Ryen and his daughter was found in the home.
Cooper was arrested two months after the killings, when he was found living on a houseboat and using the name Angel Jackson.
Because of the savagery of the attack ñ Douglas incurred 37 wounds; his wife, 32; his daughter, 46 and the houseguest, 26 ñ Cooper’s defenders claim Cooper could not have committed the murders.
Last summer, the television program “48 Hours” aired a segment in which Peggy Ryen’s mother expressed doubt about Cooper’s ability to commit the murders. She pointed out that Douglas Ryen stood 6-foot, 2-inches and was an ex-Marine. She also pointed out that when he escaped, Cooper was serving time for burglary, and that nothing from the Ryen home was taken, except their station wagon.
But Kochis painted a different picture of Cooper.
When Cooper was first arrested in California on the burglary offense, he was an escapee from the Pennsylvania State prison system, Kochis said. Cooper entered the California prison system as David Trautman, an assumed name.
“I don’t know if the people who support him are aware of his history in Pennsylvania,” Kochis said. In addition to his escape from prison, Cooper was wanted for assaulting a young woman in that state.
Kochis said Cooper kidnapped, raped and stabbed the young woman and left her for dead.
Because Cooper received a death sentence in California, Pennsylvania authorities “elected not to return him” to that state for prosecution, Kochis said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company