The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper Scapegoat

Kevin Cooper was convicted of the brutal murders of a Chino Hills, California family and a young houseguest in 1985 and has been on death row at San Quentin ever since. In his new explosive expose, SCAPEGOAT, investigative journalist J. Patrick O’Connor reveals how the sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office of San Bernardino County framed Cooper for these horrific murders.

Two days before the murders of Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 11-year-old Christopher Hughes, Cooper escaped from a nearby prison and holed up in a vacant house 125 yards below the murdered family’s hilltop house. Two days after the San Bernardino sheriff’s department established that Cooper had been hiding there, it locked in on him as the lone assailant despite numerous eye witness reports that implicated three, young white men as the perpetrators.

From that day forward, four days after the murders were discovered, the sheriff’s department discarded information that pointed at other perpetrators, destroyed evidence that exculpated Cooper, and planted evidence that implicated him.

“The justice system has failed him at almost every turn in his long, drawn-out appeal process” O’Connor said “If it were not for a court-ordered moratorium on executions in California over the lethal injection controversy, Cooper – with no appeals remaining – would have been executed by now.” The moratorium is expected to remain in place until at least the beginning of 2013.

SCAPEGOAT provides a rare direct examination of the broken justice system in the United States where homicide detectives and district attorneys all too often become blinded by their goal of winning convictions rather than searching for justice for both the victims and the accused. The Kevin Cooper case, as Judge William Fletcher of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, is a prime example of justice gone begging.

At Gonzaga University School of Law on April 12, 2010, Judge Fletcher delivered a lecture on the subject of the death penalty, in which he said that the problems with the administration of the death penalty are widespread. To illustrate he cited the Kevin Cooper case, stating “The case I am about to describe is horrible in many ways. The murders were horrible. Kevin Cooper, the man now sitting on death row, may well be – and in my view probably is – innocent. And he is on death row because the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department framed him.”

The miscarriage of justice means Kevin Cooper has now spent half of his life on death row for a crime he had nothing to do with. He will be scheduled to die by lethal injection once executions are allowed to resume in California. He is, in a word, a scapegoat.

Pre-publication praise for SCAPEGOAT has been enthusiastic:

Noelle Hanrahan, investigative reporter and director of Prison Radio said, “O’Connor focuses on critical crime scene details that illuminate a grisly murder scene (reminiscent of In Cold Blood) while exposing the epic cover-up that lands a man on death row. Read this gripping tale of how small town cops bury justice, and the courts conspire to bury the truth.

Don Fulsom, former UPI White House reporter and the author of Nixon’s Greatest Secrets said, “Pat O’Connor combines meticulous research, sound logic and judicial passion to convincingly claim that death row inmate Kevin Cooper was framed for the vicious 1985 quadruple homicide in Southern California known as the Chino Hill murders. I was glued to every page of this riveting book.”

Win Wahrer, director of The Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted:  “A riveting and disturbing account of Kevin Cooper’s long, continuing and painful journey to unveil the truth to prove his innocence.   It is a testament to the human spirit and the unwillingness to give up the good fight. A horrific, all too true story about how easy it is to be convicted and sent to death row largely due to the disregard the criminal justice system can have of an individual’s basic rights.”

John Edginton, Director, “Mumia Abu Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?” “Pat O’Connor has written a classic of investigative journalism. His book makes a hugely compelling case for a major miscarriage of justice. The case reeks of doubt , appalling police work, racial profiling . It is a terrible chronicle of how innocence can be so cruelly denied in the justice system of the United States .”