(CHINO HILLS, CA) Chino Hills mayor Brian Johsz responded to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order issued on May 28, which called for an independent investigation into Kevin Cooper, an inmate who is currently on death row.
The investigation will be run by the Board of Parole Hearings with Morrison and Foerster LLP as its special counsel. The legal firm is expected to go through records from the original trial and Cooper’s appeals, as well as look at the results from new DNA testing done on certain pieces of evidence. The latter was ordered by Newsom and former governor Jerry Brown.
“It is disappointing that Governor Newsom decided to reopen a nearly four-decade-old wound in Chino Hills,” Johsz said in a statement on May 29. “The multiple murders of our residents in 1983 still stands as the single largest criminal loss of life in our City. To this day, that sad day reverberates throughout Chino Hills.”
The same day as Newsom’s announcement, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office issued its own response, stating that it did not agree with the new investigation. The office also expressed its support for the scientific testing and various courts that gave a “guilty” verdict.
“The Executive Branch is not free to ignore the outcomes of numerous prior judicial reviews,” the statement said.
In June 1983, the Ryen family and a friend of theirs were brutally attacked with a hatchet, among other weapons, in their Chino Hills home. Douglas and Peggy Ryen were killed along with daughter Jessica Ryen, 10, and house guest Christopher Hughes, 11. The sole survivor was Josh Ryen, 8, who was found with his throat slashed.
At the time, Cooper was serving time at the California Institute for Men after pleading guilty to burglary while in Los Angeles. He escaped from the prison two days before the murders and was staying in a vacant house located in the same residential area the Ryen family lived in. He was convicted in 1985 for four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.
Since the conviction, Cooper has been held in the San Quentin State Prison, and in 2016, he sent an application for clemency to former Gov. Brown. He asserts that law enforcement officials had tampered with the evidence used in the trial.
California is one of 12 states that allow governors to grant clemency on their own, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In some states, governors rely on a board or advisory group’s recommendations, and in others, the board or group has complete control over granting clemency.
Clemency can come in the form of a pardon, reprieve or commutation, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. While pardons completely override convictions, reprieves delay the punishment for a short period of time and commutations shorten the sentences administered by the court.
Newsom has pardoned over 80 individuals and given over 20 reprieves and 90 commutations.
Aside from receiving national news coverage, the case is the main focus for websites such as the Kevin Cooper Clemency Project and Free Kevin Cooper, which have looked at the evidence from the case and the San Bernardino County Sheriff Department’s handling of the case.