Erin Moriarty and 48 HOURS investigate the controversial murder case against California death row inmate Kevin Cooper and explore whether new DNA technology can spare his life in “Was Kevin Cooper Framed?” to be broadcast Saturday, Jan. 26 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
This is a story about a horrific massacre and a death row inmate’s claims of innocence. Cooper’s case has drawn worldwide attention, including from Pope Francis and Kim Kardashian West. The heartbreaking story about the brutal assault that left four dead and one young survivor in Chino Hills, Calif., also raises questions about the initial police investigation, the loss of key evidence, and whether someone else is actually the killer.
“Nearly 20 years ago, I got a stack of letters from an inmate at San Quentin Prison,” Moriarty reports. “His name is Kevin Cooper – and he wrote that he had been framed, as he put it, ‘for something that I didn’t do.’”
Moriarty and 48 HOURS began exploring the case, the investigation, and Cooper’s claims of innocence when she got the letters, and her reporting continues to this day.
In 1983, someone brutally murdered Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and a family friend, Christopher Hughes, 11. Josh Ryen, then 8, was the only survivor. Nothing was taken from the home, except the family’s station wagon. Police were under pressure to find the killer, and the community was terrified. Almost two months after the murders, Kevin Cooper, a convicted burglar who had escaped a nearby minimum security prison, was arrested and charged with the killings.
“I cannot take responsibility for murders I did not commit,” says Cooper, who was convicted of killing four people and the attempted murder of another. He was sentenced to death.
“You have a sensational crime,” says New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, “and also a case tainted with racism.”
In 2002, post-conviction DNA testing did not exonerate Cooper, but it raised significant issues with the process. Cooper was scheduled to die in February 2004, but the 9th Circuit federal appellate court stepped in and stayed the execution. Cooper finally got his wish for additional testing on Christmas Eve 2018. The testing hasn’t occurred yet.
Will new DNA technology free Cooper? Or will it just solidify what prosecutors believe – that Cooper was the killer. Moreover, what about other possible suspects, including Lee Furrow, a paroled killer that Cooper’s defense team believes is responsible? Furrow told Moriarty in 2000 he had “nothing to do with any of this.”
“I want the truth,” said Mary Howell, Josh Ryen’s late grandmother. “And I’ll keep saying it. I’ll keep yelling it from the tops. I want the truth.”
Moriarty and 48 HOURS report the case through interviews with Ryen, investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys and more. 48 HOURS: “Was Kevin Cooper Framed?” is produced by Marcelena Spencer, Lisa Freed and Dena Goldstein. Grayce Arlotta-Berner, Ken Blum, Karen Brenner, Marlon Disla, Gregory Kaplan and Mike Vele are the editors. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.