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DNA Tests Ordered in Cooper's Appeal

June 05, 2004|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — At the request of attorneys for death row inmate Kevin Cooper, a U.S. District Court judge on Friday ordered DNA tests on hairs found inside a Chino Hills home where four people were savagely murdered in 1983.

In her order, Judge Marilyn Huff said an independent lab in Pennsylvania will begin mitochondrial DNA tests next week on three hairs found on the victims.

In 1985, Cooper was convicted of killing Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and an 11-year-old neighborhood boy, Christopher Hughes, who was at the home for a sleepover with their son. Cooper escaped from the state prison in Chino days before the murders, and used a butcher knife and hatchet to kill his victims, a jury found.

In February, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of execution, and ordered the lower court to determine if additional testing of evidence should be conducted. The appellate court also ordered a hearing to determine if prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence.

Two of the three hairs that will be tested were found on the hand of Douglas Ryen. The other hair was found on the arm of Christopher Hughes.

Huff also ordered examination of hairs found in the hands of Jessica Ryen to determine whether they are suitable for DNA testing. Those hairs have been a persistent subject of debate. Cooper is black, and defense lawyers argue that the blond hairs in her hand indicate that she was trying to fend off a blond attacker.

David Alexander, Cooper's attorney, said he is not insisting that the hair testing will confirm his theory that another person committed the murders, "but it should be done."

Earlier this week, the federal judge heard arguments from Cooper's attorneys that a bloody T-shirt found near the murder scene, which tested positive for Cooper's DNA, may have been planted by police. Cooper's attorneys requested additional testing of that evidence.

The judge said she had doubts about the reliability of the testing methods that the defense requested, but has not announced her decision.

Huff called for hearings June 29 and 30.

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