by Carole Seligman
The life of Kevin Cooper, an innocent man who has spent over 30 years on Death Row at San Quentin Prison, lies in the balance. Though clearly innocent, he was convicted of the horrific murder of three members of a family and their child guest. He has exhausted all his legal appeals. California’s execution machinery has been halted for the past several years, but law enforcement is fighting to bring it back, placing it on the ballot with a deceptive name, “The Death Penalty Reform and Savings Initiative” (California proposition 66).
How can the life of an innocent person, who has been framed and spent 30 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, be saved? Saving his life does not mean converting his death sentence to Life-Without-Parole, which many call “slow death row,” because the prisoner only leaves prison dead. No. Kevin Cooper must be freed, not executed, not kept in prison another day! Several judges have dissented from decisions upholding this death sentence, stating: “California may be about to execute an innocent man.”
Norm Hile and David Alexander, Kevin’s lawyers obtained through the Innocence Project, submitted a clemency petition to California Governor Jerry Brown, in an effort to save his life. Kevin is going to be executed, unless Governor Brown grants the petition. The petition is a remarkable document. It is a comprehensive explanation of everything that can go wrong to execute an innocent person.
Most important: the petition completely proves Kevin Cooper’s innocence. Twelve sections explain the planting of evidence, the “questionable” treatment of evidence, and the finding of new evidence. The petition gives seven examples of some of the innocent prisoners who were executed, including: Cameron Todd Willingham, Carlos DeLuna, Ruben Cantu, Claude Howard Jones, and David Spence in Texas, Leo Jones in Florida, and Troy Davis in Georgia. It also discusses the growing number of people exonerated after serving long prison terms for crimes they did not commit.
Significantly, two former prosecutors, both who sent innocent men to death row (one who was executed in Texas, and one who spent 30 years on death row in Louisiana) have written to Governor Brown in support of clemency, both convinced of Kevin’s innocence. Letters of support have come as well from many legal organizations. Benjamin Crump, President of the National Bar Association, wrote Gov. Brown: “Black Lives Matter is not a mere slogan. It reflects many forms of racial discrimination that continue to infect our criminal justice system. The disproportionate percentage of wrongful convictions that affect black Americans, such as Mr. Cooper, is a disgrace at all levels and in all states. As a preeminent voice of African-American lawyers, the National Bar Association is especially concerned about this phenomenon.”
Kevin Cooper, although suffering post-traumatic stress in the wake of coming within three hours and 42 minutes from lethal injection in 2004, became a passionate supporter of human rights and a cogent writer and speaker against the barbarity of capital punishment. He writes about how the “justice system,” especially capital punishment, is “the last vestige of slavery,” used only against the poor.