Kevin Cooper, Man at Center of Clemency Controversy, In His Own Words

Kevin Cooper has spent the last 33 years behind bars on California's death row for horrific hatchet and knife attacks that left four people dead in Chino Hills.

Now, his clemency request is being considered by Gov. Jerry Brown.

It's a case that law enforcement and prosecutors contend is overdue justice. But in a phone interview with NBC4 from San Quentin State Prison, Cooper repeated his claim that he was framed by investigators with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

"I didn't do it," Cooper said. "And yet, these people are going to murder me."

"The only evidence connecting me to those murders is what they made up."

His three-decade incarceration stemmed from the June 1983 slayings of Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and 11-year-old neighbor Christopher Hughes. A hatchet, knife and possibly an ice pick were used in the attacks.

The lone survivor was 8-year-old Josh Ryen, left for dead alongside the bodies of his family members and neighbor.

"It's just a brutal murder," said retired San Bernardino County Sheriff Floyd Tidwell, who led the investigation.

The brutality of the crime is one of the few things about the case that isn't in question. Cooper's scheduled execution in 2004 was stayed when a federal appellate court asked for a review of evidence. In 2011, a judge blocked Cooper's request for more DNA testing.

Central to Cooper's clemency petition are accusations that the sheriff's department framed him by planting and destroying evidence. His attorney also points to the circumstances that led to his arrest. Cooper, a convicted burglar, had recently escaped from a nearby men's prison in Chino when he was found hiding out at a house not far from the crime scene.

"As soon as they discover that Kevin Cooper was hiding out in a house nearby, they dropped their investigation into any white men and they started making the evidence fit the crimes that occurred," said his attorney Norman Hile.

Hile said more sensitive DNA testing would help prove his client's case, but Tidwell said he's confident more tests would just lead back to Cooper.

"In my opinion it will come out just exactly like it and before," he said. "He was a cold blooded killer that killed those folks."

San Bernardino District Attorney Mike Ramos has urged Gov. Brown to deny clemency for Cooper, nothing that his conviction has been repeatedly upheld. He said Cooper has been afford extraordinary due process.

Ramos declined an interview request from NBC4.

Contact Us