Tags: One | Reporter's | Opinion: | The | Innocent | The | Forgotten

One Reporter's Opinion: The Innocent @ The Forgotten Ones

Friday, 13 February 2004 12:00 AM

Cooper was convicted of the brutal slayings of four people - Doug and Peg Ryen, their young daughter, Jessica, and Christopher Hughes, an 11-year-old houseguest. All four were killed with a knife and hatchet in the Ryen home in Chino Hills in 1983.

This reporter lives as a horse ranch neighbor of the victims and writes this column just two miles from where the murders occurred. This is a community that has given the Kentucky Derby horses such as Swaps, Candy Spots and names familiar to the equestrian fraternity. And none of us who reside in this quiet bedrock ranching community could have imagined the horrors that have befallen us.

Cooper was convicted and sentenced to die, but now at the 11th hour the battle begins to save Cooper's miserable life. The 11th hour debate over Cooper's case centers primarily on four pieces of evidence: a blood spot, a shoe print found in the home of the murder victims, a bloody T-shirt found near the scene, and a flew blonde hairs found in the bloodied hand of Jessica Ryen, the girl victim.

At the 11th hour, after 20 years of appeals and rejections, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals - most liberal in the land, most often rejected by the Supreme Court - gained a stay of execution. Suddenly they decide they need to do more testing of the evidence, challenging the DNA that proved Cooper guilty.

And who do you suppose is spearheading the move to overturn the will of the court, the will of the people? None other than Lanny Davis, the former Counsel to President Clinton... and along with him, the same predictable individuals who always appear at the last moment in cases such as this - actors Danny Glover, Denzel Washington, Sean Penn, Richard Dreyfuss, Mike Farrell, James Cromwell... and, none other than Jesse Jackson - they're all there to save the vicious hatchet murderer, Kevin Cooper. Here come the activists, those striving for their moment in the sun, and the mentally unstable... and all of them further confuse the facts in the case. But why did they all wait until the last minute when they had 20 years to put their stories on the record?

The facts in the case have been reviewed over and over again. Cooper escaped from the California Institution for Men in Chino on June 2, 1983. The murders occurred two nights later. He was in the process of being extradited to Pennsylvania in a rape case when he escaped minimal security at the Chino prison.

This known career criminal with a rap sheet a mile long, having been placed on minimum security (God only knows why!) climbed a prison fence, walked a couple of miles down Edison Avenue arriving at the Ryens' ranch, hid out for two days before the attack, and then he left a trail of evidence... * The tobacco he smoked during his hideout is identified as the only brand used by the prison inmates.

* Bloody footprints left at the murder scene came from shoes worn only by the Chino prison inmates.

* The DNA from the saliva left on his cigarette butts.

* The murder weapons taken from the neighbors' home.

Never has this reporter witnessed this much bedrock evidence pointing to only the sole murderer, Kevin Cooper. And yet, at the 11th hour, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw this bedrock case into turmoil.

Now come the charges by Cooper's attorneys:

* ...that the DNA evidence was planted by police

* An alleged confession by a mental patient that was later recounted and dismissed by a federal judge.

* Reports from a woman who told police that shortly after the Chino Hills murders, she found a pair of bloody coveralls belonging to her boyfriend. The woman later described seeing the clothing in a "vision."

* A statement by a man identifying himself as a former police informant alleges he overheard a Riverside County Sheriff's Deputy saying, "They got the wrong family. It was a hit done by accident. Cooper was the scapegoat!"

* The Appeals Court ordered testing to determine whether a blood drop left outside Doug & Peg Ryen's bedroom had been treated with a preservative known as EDTA. Defense attorneys argue that the blood could have been planted by the investigators or tainted with the preservative.

* The defense lawyers also said they wanted an independent laboratory to conduct testing because they lack confidence in the laboratories that have been used in the case.

And one's patience is surely tested when we find that the Ryens' former priest at the Roman Catholic Church, Father Chris Ponnet, has been leading the anti-death penalty vigil for Cooper, and has been fasting in protest.

It is unbelievable that last-ditch appeals could sway the courts. The newly elected governor of the state, Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself, refused to grant a stay! But again, it's the 9th Circuit Court, dominated by Judge Stephen Reinhardt who performed the predictable. And who is Reinhardt? None other than the husband of Ramona Ripston, secretary of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

All I can say is thank God for DNA testing! It points to one blood specimen: the blood of the guilty one... one match among billions. But now they are attempting to prove that that source of evidence - a preponderance of evidence - was either tainted or planted by the police.

O.J., they must have stayed up nights studying your case! And once again, the poor innocent victims are all but forgotten, as friends and family and Joshua Ryen (the only eye-witness and survivor, declines to be interviewed, and is living an anonymous life in a Southern California town), are forced to relive the horrors, the brutal slayings of those four innocent people 20 years ago.

They're all dead, those victims, and if the game continues, Kevin Cooper will outlive all of us. These fine people were my neighbors and lived only two miles from where I write at this moment.

I, myself, retraced Cooper's escape route and witnessed the horror of the murder scene with my own two eyes. You can't imagine what I saw that day! The brutality! The blood spattered everywhere! I remember many of my fellow reporters saying, "Let me at him! Let me at him!"

Never in my 70 years of covering crimes and crime scenes has this reporter been so thoroughly convinced of the undisputed guilt as in the case of Kevin Cooper! As the images still fresh in my mind flash before my eyes again, words fail me.

Maryann Hughes, the mother of the murdered Christopher Hughes, who was visiting the Ryen home when he, sadly, got caught up in all of this, said, "I don't expect Cooper to say he's sorry. I don't think he's about to meet his maker. I don't think there's any forgiveness in him. I just think there's evil in this world and Cooper is part of it."

What motivated Cooper in this vicious, grotesque murderous rampage? He didn't know the Ryens. He only needed their car to escape and found himself trapped without any means of escape. It wasn't robbery. It wasn't anything but a means of escape. And the Ryens stood in his way. These innocent, forgotten ones, in their own home, just happened to be in the path of a vicious monster - at the right place but the wrong time.

* * * * * *

The legendary George Putnam is 89 years young and a veteran of 69 years as a reporter, broadcaster and commentator ... and is still going strong.

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Cooper was convicted of the brutal slayings of four people - Doug and Peg Ryen, their young daughter, Jessica, and Christopher Hughes, an 11-year-old houseguest. All four were killed with a knife and hatchet in the Ryen home in Chino Hills in 1983. This reporter lives...
One,Reporter's,Opinion:,The,Innocent,The,Forgotten,Ones
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2004-00-13
Friday, 13 February 2004 12:00 AM
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