SAN DIEGO — In the first courtroom hearing in the Kevin Cooper case since the convicted killer of four was issued a stay of execution in February, a federal judge was presented with two different pictures of the worthiness of scientific tests ordered by a federal appeals court.
U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Huff posed several questions to attorneys representing Cooper and his victims during the "tutorial" hearing.
Cooper was convicted of the 1983 slayings of Doug and Peg Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and Christopher Hughes, an 11-year-old house guest.
They were killed with a knife and hatchet in the Ryen home in Chino Hills. Cooper has maintained his innocence during 18 years on death row.
A federal appeals court in February stayed Cooper's execution and called for new testing of blood evidence just hours before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison.
At Friday's hearing, experts from both sides assessed what conclusions could be drawn from mitochondrial DNA testing of hairs found on some of the victims' hands.
They also analyzed testing for a blood preservative known as EDTA that could indicate whether police planted Cooper's blood on a T-shirt found on a roadway and on a wall inside the Chino Hills home.
Dr. Terry Melton, a defense expert, told Huff that the hair tests would establish if "the hairs are from alternate sources other than the family."
If that were the case, it would boost the defense theory that someone other than Cooper may have committed the crimes. It has already been proved that the hairs weren't Cooper's.
Prosecutors contend that the Ryen home was untidy, and that three of the victims ended up lying dead on the filthy carpet, where their bloody hands would naturally attract fallen and cut hairs, including their own.
The defense notes that 8-year-old Josh Ryen, a survivor of the attack, mentioned in his hospital room that three men had been seen near his house on the evening of the killings.
Additionally, the defense says, a woman who is now dead had told the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department that her ex-boyfriend came home that night with bloody coveralls, and that he and two other white males were the likely killers.