SAN DIEGO — A federal judge on Monday ordered another round of DNA testing on a blood-smeared T-shirt at the center of the latest appeal by death row inmate Kevin Cooper, who was convicted of killing four people in Chino Hills in 1983.
Cooper's defense attorneys alleged that police may have planted Cooper's blood on the tan-orange shirt, which was found near the home where two adults and two children were found slaughtered with a hunting knife and hatchet.
Cooper, who had escaped from Chino state prison and hid for two days near the home where the killings occurred, was convicted of the murders in 1985. He was hours from being executed in February when the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay.
The court agreed with Cooper's attorneys, who argued that lingering questions about Cooper's guilt could be answered by conducting two simple, inexpensive tests on the shirt and hairs found at the crime scene.
Tests on the hairs determined that they most likely belonged to the murder victims.
Two experts tested the T-shirt for a blood preservative known as EDTA, used by law enforcement when storing blood samples. Cooper's attorneys argued that the presence of EDTA would indicate that police planted the evidence on the shirt.
An expert recommended by the defense found no suspicious levels of EDTA on the shirt; a prosecution expert found elevated levels but has since said his findings were flawed because of contamination.
U.S. District Judge Marilyn L. Huff on Monday ordered additional DNA testing of the blood on the shirt. It will probably be completed next month. .
"If Kevin Cooper's blood is on that area and there's no evidence of tampering, then there's no support for your tampering theory," Huff told Cooper defense attorney David Alexander.