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Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and Fmr. Clinton Special Counsel Speak Out Against The Scheduled Execution of Kevin Cooper

StoryFebruary 05, 2004
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Kevin Cooper, who was convicted of a quadruple homicide in 1983 but has long maintained his innocence, is scheduled to die next Tuesday amid much controversy and protest. We speak with former special counsel to President Bill Clinton and a member of Cooper’s defense team Lanny Davis as well as the legendary Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for nearly two decades before finally being exonerated. [Includes transcript]

For the first time in two years, a man is to be executed in California.

Kevin Cooper was convicted of a quadruple homicide in 1983 but has long maintained his innocence. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection just after midnight next Tuesday.

In his first clemency decision since taking office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denied Cooper clemency last week saying he saw no reason to doubt Cooper’s guilt or spare his life.

Many would disagree. Cooper’s scheduled execution has drawn opposition on a scale that California has not seen since 1992 when the state resumed executions after a 25- year halt.

At least five of the 12 jurors in Cooper’s trial have called for a reprieve. Full-page newspaper ads, asking, “Does the state of California have the wrong man?’’ were signed not only by anti-death penalty activists, entertainers and clergy but also by six labor leaders, nine members of the European Parliament, 12 California legislators and former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.

Also signing the letter was Lanny Davis. He is the former special counsel to President Bill Clinton and a member of Cooper’s defense team.

  • Lanny Davis, lawyer for Kevin Cooper.
  • Dr. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Executive director of the International Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted. In the 60s Carter was a dynamic prizefighter. His promising boxing career was cut short when, just before he was set to fight for the world heavyweight title, he was wrongfully convicted of killing three people and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences. He spent almost two decades in prison before finally being exonerated.
  • Kevin Cooper, speaking from death row with Leslie Kean in exclusive interview on KPFA’s Flashpoints.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are going to start with Lanny Davis, the attorney for Kevin Cooper, the former Special Counsel to President Clinton. Can you give us the details of Kevin Cooper’s case, and why you have signed on to it–why you are representing him?

LANNY DAVIS: First of all, I’m honored to be on any program with Rubin Carter, who exemplifies the courage of someone who is an innocent man, twice convicted and ultimately vindicated because of corrupted police evidence and testimony, which is why it is relevant to talk about Kevin Cooper. I only want to talk about undisputed facts, and leave your listeners to answer the question why would we kill a man with these undisputed facts, never heard by the jury. Let me repeat. I’m going to give you three undisputed facts–not facts that are in dispute between the government and the defense. Three undisputed facts never heard by the jury.

Fact one: A little girl who was murdered on the scene, was found clutching over 100 blond human hairs. Kevin Cooper doesn’t have a human hair anywhere–he is an African-American. That evidence was never tested, and the evidence was never heard by the jury, even though the prosecutor said this entire case rests on the assumption that only one man–only one man, killed these four people in under two minutes with three murder weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re saying that Kevin Cooper does not have a blond hair.

LANNY DAVIS: Yes–not a blond hair. That evidence was never heard by the jury, and the hair was never tested.

Fact two: A girlfriend of a man who had come home the night of the murders with bloody coveralls testified that he was acting suspiciously and in panic. He took the bloody coveralls off, and his axe from his tool belt was missing. This was testified to under oath by a detective that that’s what this woman told him. Those coveralls disappeared two weeks later, and that evidence was never heard by the jury.

Fact three: A gentleman by the name of, if I can call him gentleman, Kevin Kuhn, a friend of this individual with the bloody coveralls, several months later in prison confessed to a cellmate that he was involved with this Mr. Burrows, the bloody coveralls man, in the murder of the Ryan household. And he described details of the Ryan household that he could not have known had he not been there. That confession was never heard by the jury. And indeed, a judge on the ninth circuit said “Never in my memory have we ever executed anyone where we had a confession to the murder without having that confession heard as evidence at trial.”

So, for those three reasons alone, it is absolutely incomprehensible that Governor Schwarzenegger not only denied our petition for clemency, so we could air that evidence, but he never addressed a single one of those undisputed facts in his denial statement. He ignored totally those three facts, and that is to us unfair and suggests that he perhaps did not even read the letter that we wrote to him.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re also joined by Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who has become involved in the case. Can you tell us a little bit why you got involved, and how the opposition to the execution has been building?

DR. RUBIN CARTER: Yes. Good morning, everybody. Thank you very much, Lanny. You are very kind. You are very kind. You gave three reasons, Lanny. There’s two more that are very important. One is the fact that every elected official in these–in the United States of America is sworn into office by swearing to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Now, that’s “so help me god.” There’s an oath that all elected officials take, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (the Terminator). And the question — the threshold question, the Constitutional question, that we are confronting here today is — would all of this evidence that Lanny just told us, and much more, would this evidence have changed the verdict of the jury had it been presented to the jury? And we have six jurors who have signed affidavits to Governor Schwarzenegger saying that had they had the evidence that Lanny just told you about, and other evidence, that their decision would have been different on both aspects of the case, on the guilt aspect of it, as well as the punishment phase of it. Now, that’s the key here. The Constitutional guarantee that every person accused of a crime is given a full and fair hearing in front of a jury of their peers. Kevin Cooper did not have that Constitutional guarantee honored. Therefore, it is quite — it is quite barbaric for the United States now to execute a person who may very well be innocent without that person having — having the benefit of his due processes and constitutional guarantees.

The fourth–or rather the fifth reason why Kevin Cooper should not be executed is because there’s — this execution, this death penalty is symptomatic of a much larger problem than we are confronting here. You see, every civilization, every society rises and falls upon two definite lines of development, the line of construction and the line of destruction. The line of construction is where we build our home, our businesses, our commerce, our libraries–all of that good stuff. The moment we begin to value that line of construction, immediately, the line of destruction begins to appear, because we want to protect what we have, our line of construction. And as long as these lines of development proceed side by side, one helping one another, that society will flourish. But if the line of construction gets too far ahead of the line of destruction, you have a weak society.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Lanny Davis a question, attorney for Kevin Cooper–the question is why this is all coming up so late. There was a child who survived the multiple homicide. What did that child say that …

LANNY DAVIS: May I answer this one, Rubin? This is the part that troubles me maybe more than anything in the case. The child, god bless him that he survived, was taken to the hospital with a slit throat and with all sorts of stab wounds, and during the first interviews with the police while he was in the hospital bed, he was asked, “Do you recall who killed everybody in the house?” His first answer was “There were three men. They were either white or they were Mexican American.” When he recovered the next day, he said that the same thing to his nurses, and to his grandmother. And then subsequently, when he was fully recovered and was interviewed by his psychiatrist, he repeated the same thing, “There were three men,” which does sound plausible given the fact that four people were murdered, and we know they were murdered in under two minutes. Then when Kevin Cooper was apprehended a month later, and his photographs were shown on television, in the witness — witnessed by nurses and his grandmother, young Josh Ryan looked at the television screen and in front of everyone said, “That’s not the man.” Now, that is undisputed what I just said to you. The only dispute is when it came to trial months later, after Josh Ryan had spent a good deal of the time with the police, including living at the home of a detective for a while, he ended up changing his story by saying “I didn’t really see three men, I saw a shadow.” Now, with all due respect to this young man, I can understand how his mind can be shaped and influenced in the situation that he was in. But there is no dispute that he identified three people over and over again before he changed his story at trial.


JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask Lanny Davis another issue, because obviously, DNA has often been used to absolve people who have been convicted of crimes. In this case, the DNA test that was done identified blood in the house as belonging to the defendant. Can you talk about that?

DR. RUBIN CARTER: Yes. Let me -

JUAN GONZALEZ: Rubin, yes, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.

DR. RUBIN CARTER: I’m sorry–I’m sorry for cutting in here. Yes, Josh Ryan, from the very moment that the crime took place, said that Kevin Cooper was not the person. He was — I mean, this went on for a good while. But when Kevin Cooper demanded DNA testing, and there was two spots in which his blood was determined to have been in the house, that’s one of the–and also which changed Josh Ryan’s mind whereby he thinks today that Kevin Cooper is guilty only because of this DNA test, you see, that is one of the questions that we are — that is very much in contention here. Those two spots of blood that tested positive for Kevin Cooper’s blood is very much in question. We think that blood has been put — has been put there. We are asking for a EDTA test on those two spots which would determine whether there is preservatives in that blood, or not. If there are preservatives in that blood, then it means that that blood did not come from the body of Kevin Cooper, it came from a test tube. And that’s what we need to determine before we take this person’s life.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going — we’re going to end with the words of Kevin Cooper, from prison. He was interviewed by KPFA “Flashpoints” producer, Leslie Kane. We’re just going to hear a minute of what he has to say.

KEVIN COOPER (tape): There are 15 women down here on death row. Two hours ago it was one. Soon, they’ll be talking about for the first time since such and such a date and such and such a time, we’re getting ready to execute a woman. That’s how women are getting their equal rights now. They don’t get equal pay for equal work. So they don’t get equal rights. There’s a lot of things they don’t get, but when it comes to the death penalty, they can get that equally. This thing they did to us poor people is across the board in America–about what we are, what religion we are–if we’re different from them, then we’ve got this coming. This is the knowledge that I have, as I face my death, you know. This is my death, but this is not my execution. They will take my body, but I believe that I have left something behind, that people will keep on fighting for me, even after I’m dead.

AMY GOODMAN: The words of Kevin Cooper on death row in San Quentin. Rubin Carter, last comment.

LANNY DAVIS: May I read some news here that is about to break, and the AP has the story this morning. We have had suspicions that this blood had been planted by the police for some time. One of the reasons that I am suspicious is there’s literally no reason not to do the EDTA test. It costs under a thousand dollars. It takes less than two weeks. It would establish whether the blood came out of the test tube, whether it was a sample of Kevin Cooper’s blood that had been held for some time, or versus whether there was actually blood on the crime scene in a tiny little …

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.


LANNY DAVIS: Why won’t the government do that test? If anyone listening–can anyone answer the question–why are they refusing to do the test?

AMY GOODMAN: Rubin Carter, last comment.

DR. RUBIN CARTER: Yes, we would like to have everybody–every person in the United States of America and even in the world to call the Governor at area code 916-445-2840, or email the Governor at

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, we have to end the show. Thank you both for being with us, Rubin Carter and Lanny Davis. I’m Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzales.

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