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Scapegoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper

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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 ho 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."Scapegoat" provided 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.


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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 ho 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."Scapegoat" provided 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.

36 review for Scapegoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dan Sharber

    Kevin Cooper is Innocent on California's Death Row! A recent book makes a compelling case. By: Dan Sharber This is a review of Scapegoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper by J. Patrick O'Connor, published in 2012 by Strategic Media Books. Kevin Cooper is an innocent man on death row in California. And if you have been around the anti-death penalty movement for any amount of time, you most likely know this or have at least heard of Kevin Cooper. Now, thanks to the spellbinding Kevin Cooper is Innocent on California's Death Row! A recent book makes a compelling case. By: Dan Sharber This is a review of Scapegoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper by J. Patrick O'Connor, published in 2012 by Strategic Media Books. Kevin Cooper is an innocent man on death row in California. And if you have been around the anti-death penalty movement for any amount of time, you most likely know this or have at least heard of Kevin Cooper. Now, thanks to the spellbinding new book, Scapegoat, by J. Patrick O’Connor, many, many more people will hopefully know his story too. This book is fantastic for a few different reasons. The first is that O’Connor is simply a talented writer. He uses the facts of the story to reconstruct it in such a way as to build a tension-filled legal thriller in the vein of John Grisham. But unlike a Grisham novel or other true crime books of this ilk, O’Connor doesn’t just relay the story, he also spends a lot of time critiquing events and pointing out where things went wrong. This elevates the book above the level of a garden-variety true crime story and situates it firmly in the realm of political critique of the criminal justice system. O’Connor’s strength is his unwillingness to simply let the facts of the mishandling of Cooper’s case speak for themselves and rather to hammer home the police misconduct, the prosecutorial shenanigans and Cooper’s own defense attorney’s screw ups. Mainly, this is a simple story of racist scapegoating at its worst. On the morning of June 5, 1983, Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and Christopher Hughes were found dead in the Ryen home. They had been chopped with a hatchet, sliced with a knife, and stabbed with an ice-pick. Josh Ryen, the 8-year-old son of Douglas and Peggy, had survived though his throat had been cut. It is important to note right away two things about this uncontested account. First, one person could not possibly have wielded that many weapons and subdue that many people. It is not humanly possible. And secondly, the only living witness Josh Ryen, initially said that Cooper was not the killer even telling a social worker in the emergency room that the murders were committed by 3 or 4 white men. The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department deputies who responded to the call decided almost immediately that Kevin Cooper was the likely killer because he had admittedly hidden out in the vacant Lease house next door to the crime scene for two days (leaving on June 4th) and because he was a convenient black man in largely white San Bernardino. As anyone reading this will already know, the criminal justice system and specifically the application of the death penalty is full of racial bias. This bias extends not only to the race of the defendants singled out for death sentences but also to the race of the victim. African Americans are 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 42 percent of prisoners on death row. In Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Maryland, and in the U.S. military and federal system, more than 60 percent of those on death row are Black; Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Ohio all have death rows where more than 50 percent are African American. Although Blacks constitute approximately 50 percent of murder victims each year, 80 percent of the victims in death penalty cases were white, and only 14 percent were Black. The cards were stacked against Cooper before his name was even known. Likewise, the misconduct in this case also began even before Cooper was pegged as the perpetrator. In a shocking example of prosecutorial overreach, the District Attorney, Dennis Kottmeier had the crime scene torn down after only a couple of days of investigation. This prevented any experts from reconstructing or reenacting what happened that night in the Ryen’s home. Further, even the little bit of forensic work that was done was totally botched and contaminated at every stage of the process. O’Connor does an especially good job of pointing out the shocking level of incompetence of both the police force and the District Attorney’s office, even prior to the racist scapegoating that occurs once they discover Cooper was in the area. It is then that things really heat up. Evidence is now pretty conclusively planted in the nearby house Cooper hid in. A blood-stained khaki green button identical to buttons on field jackets issued at the state prison from which Cooper escaped was found on the rug at the Lease house; a hatchet covered with dried blood and human hair that was found near the Ryens' home was missing from the Lease house, and the sheath for the hatchet was found in the bedroom where Cooper had stayed. These two pieces of evidence appeared a day after the house had been searched and no such evidence had been found. Both the button and the sheath were clearly planted in the Lease house. It was established at trial that the prison jacket Cooper was wearing was tan, not green. And it was never established that the sheath matched the hatchet that was used in the crime The tragedy though is not simply that Kevin Cooper could be executed for a crime he didn’t commit but also that the Ryen family murders have not be solved and the perpetrators are still at large. The local police had access to evidence and multiple accounts from witnesses at various times pointing to a group of (3 – 4 white) men who were most likely the killers. Because this didn’t conform to their hardened view that Cooper was the murder, they disregarded all of it. What’s more, the police even went so far as to destroy evidence. While destroying exculpating evidence by crooked cops is probably not all that uncommon, the disregard they show for finding the real killer is shocking. Shortly after the murders, a woman came forward saying she thought her (white) boyfriend was involved, as he had left a pair of bloody overalls at her house. It took many efforts on her part to merely get the police interested enough to come and pick up the overalls and interview the witness. However instead of using this new lead to expand the search away from Cooper, the police destroyed the overalls - what was likely the largest single piece of exculpatory evidence in their possession. This witness also claimed that a hatchet was missing from her garage. In a recent interview with Prison Radio, O'Connor pointed out that "while Cooper’s trial was in progress, an inmate in a California prison told prison authorities and a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s detective that his cellmate had confessed to the Chino Hills murders, stating it was an Aryan Brotherhood hit but the three killers had gone to the wrong house." At this point the case just gets totally absurd. The defense attorney, David Negus, clearly did not know what he was doing and made mistake after mistake both procedurally and argumentatively. Even with a large amount of tainted evidence and clear misconduct on the part of the police and the DA’s office, Negus still did not put together a coherent defense. Cooper was unsurprisingly convicted and sentence to death row. But the misconduct isn’t over. Clearly Cooper had some solid grounds for appeals but those too were thwarted at every turn - from the incompetent police lab techs willfully destroying evidence (only to find it again when it served their case) to the appellate judge maliciously denying Cooper all sorts of legal maneuvers for no other reason than spite. Overall, I, even as a seasoned anti-death penalty, anti-police activist, was shocked at the level of unfairness, corruption and general incompetence that riddled this case. There is so much more to discuss on this case that I do not have the space to get into here. Suffice it to say, this book is well worth reading. It gives an inside view of not just how one man was railroaded and could be murdered by the state for a crime he didn’t commit, but it’s also a glimpse into the very real way that this racist scapegoating happened and continues to happen throughout the criminal ‘justice’ system. Get mad and then get involved! originally i wrote this review and published it here: http://nodeathpenalty.org/new_aboliti...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. On June 4 1983 The Ryen Family and Christopher Hughes were butchered in the Ryen home, with Josh Ryen (age 8) being the sole survivor. Other than the station wagon, nothing was stolen. Once the cops found out that Kevin Cooper, an escaped convict, had been hiding out next door and had left the house the night of the slaughter, they naturally assumed it was him. DNA testing seemed condemning. Case closed right? Well....not exactly. First of all, as O'Connor shows, the investigation was badly handl On June 4 1983 The Ryen Family and Christopher Hughes were butchered in the Ryen home, with Josh Ryen (age 8) being the sole survivor. Other than the station wagon, nothing was stolen. Once the cops found out that Kevin Cooper, an escaped convict, had been hiding out next door and had left the house the night of the slaughter, they naturally assumed it was him. DNA testing seemed condemning. Case closed right? Well....not exactly. First of all, as O'Connor shows, the investigation was badly handled from day 1. Despite it being an active crime scene the police allowed 70 people to trample everywhere even though they had no reason; when the DA tore down the scene they didn't even know the precise order the victims died in. Blood evidence was collected in a shoddy manner. More damningly, O'Connor makes a compelling case that the police, underprepared and pressured to find a suspect, willingly forged evidence in order to secure a conviction, aided in this by their own racial hatred. For example, two of the most commonly held pieces of evidence by those who think Cooper guilty are shoe prints found in the ryen home and the hideout house; the first print in the ryen home was only found a month later AFTER William Baird (who would later be fired for stealing heroin) acquired a set of the supposedly unique shoe. The other print in the house was only located after officers had trampled it and a deputy who failed to sketch it was instructed to look again. Even the weapon's sheath was only found after an officer claimed not to have entered the room when in fact he did. Scarily, there are numerous other examples of outright malice and incompetence throughout the book. Sadly, the most insidious of the prosecution's antics came AFTER the trial. In 1999, Daniel Gregonis (the lead criminalist who had already been forced to admit he had committed perjury and had lied about how he conducted the testing such as altering his lab notes when later results seemed to prove Cooper wasn't the one who left the blood stain which was the other key piece of evidence.) checked out an envelope containing A41 (which contained a stain of blood recovered at the site of the murder which seemed to be Cooper's) as well as a sample of cooper's blood, a cigarette allegedly recovered from the car, and Cooper's saliva. Sure enough after Gregonis returned them later tests condemned Cooper. To this day there are still accusations that Gregonis altered key evidence during those 24 hours he checked out the evidence, a contention supported by the implications he framed William Richardson in 1997. Still, this was hardly the worst of the troubles Kevin faced; his lawyer, while well meaning, chose to try the case with only one investigator despite being overworked and having health problems. In doing so he missed several key opportunities to save Cooper. The first one was before the trial even occurred. A Week after the murder, a woman named Diana Roper turned over coveralls belonging to her boyfriend, Lee Furrow. Furrow had already brutally killed a young teenager for Clarence Ray Allen, strangling her, hacking her corpse to pieces and disposing it in the river. Roper said that they were covered in blood and while Deputy Eckley would later deny this his own attempts to turn over the coveralls for 6 months implies he may well have believed her. The coveralls were eventually disposed of by being placed in a dumpster. Because of his lack of resources, Negus didn't know about the coveralls until he read the discovery after the disposal. Had he chosen to have more help he could have known of the coveralls and acquired them before they were disposed of. From there he could have easily tested the coveralls for blood, which depending on the results could well have scored him an automatic victory. When he heard rumors of a third party confession in court he didn't follow up because he thought it would conflict the theory he had of three white men doing the deed....ignoring that the source of the confession (Ken Koon) may well have been one of the three men AND that he had ties with Lee Furrow, implicated by Diana roper.) Had Cooper had the attorney's he would receive in 2003, he may well have won the trial. Sadly, the system continued to actively conspire against Cooper. In 2004 he narrowly earned a stay of execution so the evidence could be examined. Unfortunately the judge in charge Marilyn Huff had ruled against him and had a long history of being biased and incompetent. As such, Cooper's attorney's were blatantly blocked from pursuing legitimate avenues of inquiry (such as why a blood vial that should only have cooper's blood had a second set of blood in it, or why the prosecution expert was allowed to withdraw his results on grounds of contamination even when he refused to submit data that would buttress his claims or the fact the police tried to strong-arm a witness who supported the contention that the three white men who entered the bar were drenched in blood.) while allowing the prosecution to make bald faced lies (they claimed a blue shirt that was recovered was the same as the tan t-shirt recovered later even though the records described the blue shirt being found in a different time in a different location and even though the tan shirt would not be referenced in the call logs because it was an officer who found it rather than a civilian). (side note: Judge Huff also claimed that Cooper's proposed method of EDTA testing was unscientific, but still used the results when it seemed to support her theory he was guilty, itself reached by falsely claiming controls were legitimate). Most appallingly she allowed the sole survivor to make a meaningless statement about how evil Cooper was even though she had no legal grounds to do so, all the while refusing to allow the defense to cross examine him and point out the fact that key elements of his story were very clearly manipulated (he described cooper as having bushy hair when the only time he would see bushy hair was when cooper was arrested months later, or that his own psychiatrist opined that the cops manipulated him). Her ruling included photos of the victims when there was no grounds for it. In 2009 the En Banc Panel in charge of hearing the matter very narrowly denied a new hearing, and at least one of the majority all but admitted that the only reason she didn't grant relief was the AEDPA act (an incredibly asinine law that denies Habeas corpus). Strangely, this is still taken as a sign of Cooper's guilt by Mary Ann Hughes. The book has not included more recent information (post 2012) but it's still a comprehensive read. Overall the book is about one case, but at the same time it raises disturbing points about our system. While we might not want to think so, corrupt cravens like Judge Marilyn Huff and Daniel Gregonis are far more prevalent in the system than we want to admit, and many of the people we comfortably think guilty may in fact be innocent. At the same time, O'Connor shows tremendous empathy for the victims, fleshing them out as people and telling their story in a sympathetic way; he clearly wants justice for them even if he disagrees that Cooper is the one. Either way, O'Connor argues his case quite well and paints a disturbing picture of corrupt policemen, incompetent judges, craven criminalists and racist members of a doomed system. It's a powerful story that will chill anyone to the bone.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dale

    More like 3.5. Not the most well written book, pretty dry and straight to the point but lays out all the facts concisely. No doubt that Kevin Cooper is innocent

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lisa O'Brien

    Frankly, Cooper (no relation to his subject) was long on conclusory allegations, many of which have been rejected by the state and federal courts reviewing Kevin Cooper's conviction and short on proven facts that support the premise that Kevin Cooper was framed for the murders of Doug, Peggy and Jessica Ryen and Christopher Hughes and the attempted murder of Josh Ryen. While Cooper claims he went in with no preconceived notions of Kevin Cooper's guilt or innocence, his bias is obvious from Page Frankly, Cooper (no relation to his subject) was long on conclusory allegations, many of which have been rejected by the state and federal courts reviewing Kevin Cooper's conviction and short on proven facts that support the premise that Kevin Cooper was framed for the murders of Doug, Peggy and Jessica Ryen and Christopher Hughes and the attempted murder of Josh Ryen. While Cooper claims he went in with no preconceived notions of Kevin Cooper's guilt or innocence, his bias is obvious from Page 1. One of the most glaring examples of Cooper's bias is his continued insistence on presenting inconsistent witness statements as conclusive proof. A husband and wife saw a station on a road in Chino Hills that Cooper asserts was near the Ryen residence, without providing an address to corroborate that claim. The husband saw a single white male driver. The wife saw three or four white males in the vehicle. Neither provided a license plate, or even a partial license plate to corroborate that the station wagon seen belonged to the Ryens. Cooper also glosses over the evidence found inside the station wagon that tied Cooper to it. The second glaring example is Cooper's presentation of inconsistent statements about Lee Furrow and the mysterious patrons of the Canyon Corral Bar as proven evidence of Kevin Cooper's innocence and ignoring the absence of any evidence that points to anyone other than Kevin Cooper. I am even less convinced of the involvement of anyone other than Kevin Cooper in the murders of the Ryen family, Chris Hughes and the attempted murder of Josh Ryen. Cooper glosses over the fact that DNA evidence has not only proven Kevin Cooper's guilt beyond any doubt, but has also refuted the claims of actual innocence.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Gregg

    While this book was not well-edited (I'm sure, although I didn't check) that O'Connor did not score a big deal publishing house, my God if you believe Kevin Cooper should be charged, let alone convicted and put on Death Row for these horrific crimes, something is wrong. This book shows the ongoing corruption in the system, which has ruined this man's life. I can only imagine the pain of the loved ones' losses, but justice cannot be served by an innocent man being blamed and executed. The killers While this book was not well-edited (I'm sure, although I didn't check) that O'Connor did not score a big deal publishing house, my God if you believe Kevin Cooper should be charged, let alone convicted and put on Death Row for these horrific crimes, something is wrong. This book shows the ongoing corruption in the system, which has ruined this man's life. I can only imagine the pain of the loved ones' losses, but justice cannot be served by an innocent man being blamed and executed. The killers have not been brought to justice on these crimes and as a result we the people have not been served. Read this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tricia Gabel

    Too one sided. Too boringly detailed, especially at the end.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jason Parr

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mary Lou Plummer

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michael Zimecki

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joe

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  14. 5 out of 5

    Shannon McFee

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lily

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tracey Kubik pyle

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas B

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kelcie

  20. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

  22. 4 out of 5

    Susan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ak47

  24. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sherah

  26. 5 out of 5

    Andi

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl Hopkins

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rhonda

  30. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  31. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlin

  32. 5 out of 5

    Greg Hyland

  33. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Tracy

  34. 5 out of 5

    Arienne Fulton

  35. 4 out of 5

    Shoshanna Joseph

  36. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

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