By Nick Cahill
SACRAMENTO – Included in a batch of Christmas Eve clemency, California Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered a fresh look into a 1980s quadruple murder case and pardoned six Cambodian refugees who faced deportation.
Outgoing Gov. Brown directed investigators to conduct new forensic testing of specific evidence that was used to convict Kevin Cooper and land him on death row in 1985. Cooper believes that San Bernardino County law enforcement officials planted evidence and that updated technology will prove his innocence.
Over the last year, many high profile officials including U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, D-California, have advocated that Brown allow new testing on evidence collected at the 1983 crime scene. Cooper, a black man, was convicted in 1985 and is now 60-years-old.
“I take no position as to Mr. Cooper’s guilt or innocence at this time, but colorable factual questions have been raised about whether advances in DNA technology warrant limited retesting of certain physical evidence in the case,” Gov. Brown said in a statement.
Gov. Brown, 80, appointed a retired judge as special master to oversee the testing of four specific items, including a t-shirt, towel, hatchet handle and sheath. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denied two of Cooper’s previous clemency petitions.
The case received new attention after the New York Times and other media outlets published opinion pieces this year regarding Cooper’s situation. Reality television star Kim Kardashian also implored Gov. Brown in October to “please add Kevin Cooper to your legacy of smart, fair and thoughtful criminal justice reforms.”
In 2004 the Ninth Circuit intervened hours before Cooper’s execution and ordered new testing. The tests found EDTA, a chemical used to preserve blood samples, on a t-shirt that also had Cooper’s blood stains.
Gov. Brown also granted pardons to six Cambodian refugees, including one who escaped from the genocide under Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot. Sear Un fled from Cambodia in in 1984 at the age of 7. He was scheduled to be deported last week in connection to a 1998 residential burglary.
According to Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Sear didn’t commit any crimes since then and had “dedicated himself to his family and community.”
“I have a lot of gratitude for my family and community for standing up for me,” Sear said in a prepared statement. “I hope that future California governors will continue to recognize the injustice afflicting our communities today and act to end the suffering that continues to tear our families apart.”
Gov. Brown separately denied the clemency petition of Napoleon Brown, who is the brother of new San Francisco Mayor London Breed. The mayor sent Gov. Brown a letter after being elected in June, asking him to commute the 44-year prison sentence of her brother who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
The fourth-term governor granted 143 pardons and 131 commutations Monday and has issued over 1,500 clemency requests over his second stint in Sacramento.
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