Kevin Cooper, an African-American, was convicted in 1985 of murdering a white family of four in Chino Hills, San Bernardino County in June 1983. The investigation and trial of Mr. Cooper bore all of the hallmarks of racism and prosecutorial misconduct that plagues our criminal injustice system.
Mr. Cooper was scheduled to be executed in February 2004, but was granted a stay of execution by the Ninth Circuit. On May 11, 2009, the Ninth Circuit denied his petition for habeas corpus en banc, upon which six Ninth Circuit judges dissented, based in part on evidence of tampering by the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department. In a scathing dissenting opinion, Judge William A. Fletcher stated, “The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man.” Five additional Ninth Circuit judges also dissented, stating that Mr. Cooper had never received a fair hearing on his innocence claims.
On February 17, 2016, Mr. Cooper, through his attorney, Norm Hile of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, submitted a Petition for Executive Clemency to Governor Brown. As an on-going effort between the Kevin Cooper Defense Committee and the San Francisco Law School chapter of the NLG, a letter in support of Kevin Cooper’s clemency was drafted and jointly submitted by the Golden Gate University School of Law, UC Berkeley School of Law, UC Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco Law School, University of San Francisco School of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law and Stanford Law School Chapters of the NLG on March 4, 2016.
While as legal activists and law students, we are opposed to the death penalty regardless of a prisoner’s “guilt” or “innocence,” our letter nonetheless outlined the basis of Mr. Cooper’s wrongful conviction. The submission of our chapters’ letter of support coincided with the NLG’s Week Against Mass Incarceration, facilitating national attention of Mr. Cooper’s case. Ten days later on March 14, 2016, the American Bar Association submitted their letter in support of Mr. Cooper’s clemency.