Governor orders DNA testing in 35-year-old murder case

A 61-year-old man who has spent decades in prison after being sentenced to death for the murder of four people in 1983 was thrown a lifeline on Feb. 22 when California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered DNA testing of evidence that he claims will prove his innocence. The case garnered national attention in 2000 when the CBS show "48 Hours" ran a story suggesting that key evidence had been overlooked or destroyed by law enforcement.

The additional testing may be the man's last hope. Additional tests ordered earlier by former Gov. Jerry Brown provided more evidence of his guilt according to prosecutors. The man and his attorney claim that police planted evidence because they were under pressure to close the case quickly. The killer or killers used a hatchet and knife to brutally kill two adults and two children in their Chino Hills home.

Gov. Newsom says that the additional testing is prudent because a man's life is at stake and every effort should be made to establish guilt beyond any doubt. Relatives of the slain family say the governor is responding to pressure from individuals including Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris. The evidence Newsom ordered to be tested includes hair samples taken from the hands of the victims and two unidentified blood samples.

DNA testing was in its infancy when these murders took place in 1983, and the kind of evidence covered by Gov. Newsom's order would today likely be tested as a matter of course. Experienced criminal defense attorneys may stay abreast of breakthroughs in forensic science, and they could revisit cases involving violent crimes when new techniques may provide evidence that exonerates their clients.

Source: CBS News, "Kevin Cooper case: California Gov. Gavin Newsom orders more DNA testing", Staff report, Feb. 22, 2019

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