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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Police State and Prisons
Interview with Kevin Cooper, an innocent man on California's death row
Transcript and audio of KPFA interview with Kevin Cooper on California's death row regarding his recent denial by the Ninth Circuit and the 101 page dissent from Judge Fletcher which begins "The State of California may be about to execute and innocent man."
“Saving the Life of an Innocent Man”
Interview with Kevin Cooper
By Dennis Bernstein and Leslie Kean
May 18, 2009
Dennis Bernstein: Today on Flashpoints: According to eleven federal judges, the state of California may be one step away from murdering an innocent black man. On Flashpoints today, an exclusive interview with death row prisoner, Kevin Cooper. I’m Dennis Bernstein with Leslie Kean.
You’re listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio. If you believe the claims of death row prisoner Kevin Cooper, that he is innocent, and that there are many reasons to do so, then the state of California should be brought up on charges of attempted murder and false imprisonment. Eleven federal judges of the Ninth Circuit of Appeals have enough doubt about Cooper’s guilt or various violations of his due process, that they opposed the court’s recent denial of a rehearing to examine further evidence key to Cooper’s case. Cooper has been denied such hearings in the past, most recently on May 11. In a hundred-plus page dissent issued on the eleventh, Judge W. Fletcher of the Ninth Circuit warned that the state may be about to execute an innocent man. Kevin Cooper spoke to Flashpoints last five years ago in 2004, five days after the state came within a few hours of murdering him. Cooper’s lawyers are appealing the recent ruling by the entire Ninth Circuit to the Supreme Court. Cooper has been on death row for over twenty-five years. He joins us now from death row on San Quentin. Kevin Cooper, welcome.
Kevin Cooper: Thank you, Dennis.
Dennis Bernstein: And also joining the discussion is Leslie Kean. She’s a friend of Cooper’s who has been visiting him for over ten years on death row, and has done extensive research on the case. Again, Kevin Cooper, welcome to Flashpoints. It is good to have you back with us.
Kevin Cooper: Thank you for having me.
Dennis Bernstein: How are you doing? Are you okay?
Kevin Cooper: Yes, I’m well. I’m strong.
Dennis Bernstein: All right. I’m glad to hear that. I think it’s important, because a lot of people don’t know the case, don’t know what’s going on here. Why don’t you tell us, set the scene, tell us what was happening five years ago, several hours before the state tried to kill you? Tell us what the situation was.
Kevin Cooper: The situation was hectic. I was locked inside this dungeon here in the bowels of San Quentin prison, where these institutions are trying to torture and murder. And somehow or other, I managed to get a stay of execution from that State, which was based on a Brady law violation. The state was holding material, exculpatory evidence. I was able to survive this madness. And now I seem to be right back, right in it.
Dennis Bernstein: In one moment, Leslie Kean is going to go over the recent decisions and the things that people can do, as well. We’re going to be talking about that later on, Kevin. But again, when you say the madness, you were within eight hours of being executed by the state.
Kevin Cooper: Yeah, I was three hours 42 minutes to be exact.
Dennis Bernstein: That’s what I thought. The Chronicle reported eight hours. That’s why I never trust them. And where were you being held?
Kevin Cooper: In a room right next to the death chamber, the death chamber waiting room. At various points in time, I was in different parts of the prison. I was over here where I am now, called the East Block, when they moved me to another part of the prison, called North Seg which is right above the Death House, and they moved me down inside the death chamber waiting room.
Dennis Bernstein: Kevin Cooper, it must have been a devastating experience, coming three hours within your life, knowing, feeling in your heart that you’re an innocent man. Could you describe what happens, what was going on and the impact that has on you as a person?
Kevin Cooper: No, I can’t. That’s how unbelievable it is – you have to experience it to truly appreciate and understand it. It has an effect on you emotionally, psychologically, mentally, spiritually, I mean, it’s a life-altering event. It’s so real. It’s so real that it seems unreal. There’s no way I can honestly do this justice - what happened to me or to anyone else that was tortured and murdered by any state in any death house in this country.
Dennis Bernstein: They put you through a ritual, don’t they, in which they’re, in essence, attempting to get your cooperation in your own killing, in your own murder.
Kevin Cooper: Exactly. They want you to be complicit. Exactly. They want you to participate. They want you to make them feel good about killing you. And I refuse to do that. I just couldn’t do that. I couldn’t eat their food, I couldn’t do anything that they wanted me to do. They asked me, or told me, to choose the method by which I wanted them to murder me. I couldn’t do that. How can I do that? Look how sick that even sounds. They kept asking did I want a last meal and, if so, what did I want? I wanted to eat good food. I don’t want to choose the method by which they were to murder me, how they were going to torture me. That’s for them to decide. I can’t deal with that. That’s how unreal the situation is.
Dennis Bernstein: [station ID and reintroduction] Also in the studio is Leslie Kean. She is a former producer and host of Flashpoints, a friend of Cooper’s who has done extensive research on the case.
Leslie Kean: Kevin, hi, it’s Leslie Kean. In order to bring the story up to date, we’ve talked about how you came so close to being executed. After the whole ritualistic thing was over and you were back in your cell, and you have maintained your position as an activist… But how did you recover? If you could describe, and I know you said it’s really, really hard to describe, but the first few weeks after this horrific attempt on your life, how did you actually recover from that and kind of bounce back into the struggle that you’ve been carrying on so powerfully ever since?
Kevin Cooper: Well, I’ve been blessed to have friends out here such as yourself who’ve taken time out of their lives to come and visit me at this plantation, visit me, and spend quality time with me. I read a lot of books. I do my artwork, which, to me, is kind of a therapeutic type thing, it helps me escape the reality of this hectic day-to-day life in this place. And so, through a combination of things, through a combination of willpower, because I understand that if I don’t recover, if I didn’t recover, then these people would win. And I’m not about to let them win if I can help it. I had to find my inner strength and somehow I managed to do it, but it was hard then and it’s still hard now.
Dennis Bernstein: What are you reading now?
Kevin Cooper: Right now, I’m reading Slavery By Another Name. And that is by Douglas A. Blackmon.
Leslie Kean: And you just finished Mumia Abu-Jamal’s book, is that right?
Kevin Cooper: Yeah. Jailhouse Lawyers. I read a lot of different books, and I do a lot of artwork, and I write a lot. I mean, I do a variety of different things, you know, in order to live, to live here on death row.
Leslie Kean: And a big part of what you do, Kevin Cooper, is you are an activist. From that cell, you deal with a lot of activists in the Bay Area and around the country. You’re part of a movement to abolish the death penalty, and play a very important role in that. Can you describe what role that activism plays in your life and how that keeps you going in prison?
Kevin Cooper: Well, this activism has allowed me to vindicate myself because I do feel vindicated with [that dissent] from those eleven justices on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Not only have they believed that I am innocent, and they agreed that I’m innocent, they agreed that they have proven my innocence and proven how the state of California went about framing me. It is all in the first 105 pages. Without this movement, a lot of the things that I now know, even the lawyers that took on this case pro bono, which is Orrick, Herrington, and Sutliffe, none of that would have come about without the movement, without this activism. Every single person that has ever done anything in this movement, to help expose corruption in any death penalty case, any case here, lay the foundation for us to walk on and to build what’s happening in my filing.
Leslie Kean: And you just made reference to this filing. Just so people know what you made reference to about the eleven judges, there was a filing on May 11 in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, as Dennis mentioned earlier, actually denying you a rehearing, but what was really important about that was the fact that you had eleven judges who dissented in 101 pages, as you just mentioned. And I want to get into some of the points that these judges made and some of the statements that they made.
Why don’t you talk about, first of all, it was a very, very powerful dissent, laying out all the details of your case. What was your reaction when you read that?
Kevin Cooper: Vindication! I felt, no matter what happens to me, whether these people go ahead and torture me and murder me, no matter what happens to me, I did what I set out to do. And we as a movement did what we set out to do. And that is, prove that I am innocent. There is no way in the world that eleven federal circuit judges would come to the conclusions that they came to if it weren’t the truth. These people don’t deal with lies, they deal with the truth. Now there are other judges up there who know the truth, but they haven’t said anything. They’ve either just ignored it or said it was procedurally broad. They’ve never said that we were lying. They didn’t say that the stuff didn’t happen; they just said it’s procedurally barred, or too late, or this or that, or it’s a harmless error, or this or that. But they’ve never said I was lying. Now these other judges, these eleven, and they’re Republicans and Democrats, even the Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit, who’s a Republican, a right-wing conservative Republican, is on my side.
Dennis Bernstein: And again, to be clear, as we quoted in the introduction, the writer, the judge who wrote the hundred-plus page dissent, Judge Fletcher, said that the state may be about to execute an innocent man. So he didn’t really restrain in any way from suggesting that the state could become a murderer once again.
Kevin Cooper: What Judge Fletcher stated was not just present day fact, it’s historical fact. You see, history is my teacher. History has exposed all types of things to me, good and bad, about this country. And the one thing that it most definitely taught me is that this country was founded upon killing innocent people. It was built upon killing innocent people. And it was maintained, and is being maintained to date, on killing innocent people. And so this is something that this country has always done. This is why they don’t ever seem to blink an eye about it. This is how they can say that it’s not unconstitutional to kill an innocent person – because they’ve always done it. And somehow or another, when we find a constitutional violation, they seem to bypass them or to get around them, say that it is procedurally barred, because this is what they do, all they know. So I’m not surprised that they’ll kill me as an innocent man, but what I am surprised about is that these judges – and it’s not just one judge, it’s not just him, it’s ten others with him, and there’s others that just didn’t say nothing, but also agreed with him.
Dennis Bernstein: Well, the point here is that eleven federal judges have opposed the recent decision by the Ninth Circuit to deny you this important new hearing. [station ID and recap] He’s been on death row for twenty-five years. We’re talking about a recent decision that could leave you in the hands of the Supreme Court; which would be fairly troubling.
Leslie Kean: Kevin, just to give people some examples of some of the corruption that has gone on in your case…First of all, you were convicted in 1983 for murdering four people and I just want to give you the chance to make the point…You have always stated from the very beginning that you were innocent of this crime, correct?
Kevin Cooper: Exactly. Yes, I have.
Leslie Kean: And one of the things that the judge pointed out in this recent ruling was that certain evidence in your original trial in 1983 was withheld from the jury. And if that evidence had been introduced, you would very likely not have been convicted. Can you give us some examples of some of the key pieces of evidence that were not included?
Kevin Cooper: Well, there was a pair of bloody coveralls that a lady turned over to the police, and told them that her boyfriend, who was a convicted murderer, left at her house. And they were covered in blood. And she and her sister seen him getting out of a car that matched the description of the victim’s stolen car. And things of that nature. And they just threw those coveralls away. So what they did was, by throwing those coveralls away, they eliminated the jury from learning about the coveralls, from learning about the guy who left them at her house, learning about he was a convicted murderer, learning about a whole bunch of stuff. They denied me due process on that. They also withheld evidence that the warden at CIM [California Institution for Men, a medium security prison] at that time, her name was Midge Carroll, she told them that the tennis shoes that they tried to say that I had were not prison-issue tennis shoes, as they claimed they were. Because those tennis shoes were supposed to have matched an imprint that they had found in blood on the victim’s bedsheet that they did not find at the crime scene, but somehow they found at the crime lab. So it’s stuff like this, when you listen to me talk about it, it don’t sound real, but this is so real. This is so real. They’re getting ready to kill me by just making evidence disappear. There was a blue shirt that they found. They threw it away. They didn’t tell nobody. We didn’t even know it existed until 2004 when we got some police logs that happened to mention that somebody called the police and told them about a blue shirt. The police went and picked it up. And on the police log is the evidence of pick up and the shirt was in connection with the Ryen-Hughes murder.
Leslie Kean: Absolutely so. Yes, these are just some examples that we see this in other cases in this country, where people are wrongfully convicted. And Judge Fletcher actually wrote in his summary of his 101-page statement here, “Given the weakness of the evidence against Cooper, if the state had given Cooper’s attorneys this exculpatory evidence, it is highly unlikely that Cooper would have been convicted.” So your original trial was a problem. And, of course, there have been many other things since then that have developed. And the other thing that Judge Fletcher has focused on is the issue of evidence having been tampered with, both at the time of the trial and in the years following. So do you want to talk about that aspect a little bit?
Kevin Cooper: Well, they tampered with…I had some DNA testing on a drop of blood that they had claimed was found inside the victim’s house. It was supposed to be one drop of blood. So I asked them, when the DNA testing came around, I asked for it. And at first the state said, “No.” I asked again and they said, “No.” I asked again and they said, “No” and then the fourth time, they happened to say, “Yes.” But what they didn’t tell us was before they said yes, they let the criminologist who was messing with it at that trial, to go down there and take it out for 24 hours along with my saliva and other evidence, my other blood that they took from me when I was arrested. And they didn’t tell nobody. So then this guy puts it back after having it out 24 hours. And we found out about it. We found out about it after the DNA tests were done and the DNA test come back and said that was mine. So what’s stuff like that? One cigarette butt had a yellow filter in 1983, and in 2001 when there was DNA testing, they had a white filter. Another butt was 4 mm in length in, I think it was 1983, and it turns out to have been 7.7 mm in 2001. How does the cigarette grow after they’ve taken it apart and tested? And then, they put it back together. I mean, with stuff like this that we proved, we have photographic evidence of all this stuff I’m saying, and these people, this court system, just ignored everything. They just ignored it, or acted like it didn’t exist, or they made excuses for it, and the bottom line is they’re giving me the type of trial that they gave Dred Scott back in 1857. They’re saying that this man don’t have no rights at all that a white man, and in this case, a white woman, a judge, is bound to respect because they messed over all my rights, every last single one of them, in order to kill me for something that I did not do. Even Joshua Ryen, who was a child at the time, he told them people, when he saw my face on TV, that Kevin Cooper didn’t do it, that it was three white men. I believe that Judge Fletcher mentions that in his dissent as well. Well, if Joshua Ryen had of saw my picture on TV and said, “Yeah, that was him,” well they would have used that against me. But he said no, it wasn’t me. He told his grandmother it wasn’t me. He told other people it wasn’t me. He told the police it wasn’t me.
Leslie Kean: And just so people know, there were four people that were murdered. Joshua Ryen was a young boy in the family that was killed. He was not killed, but severely injured during the assault on his family. So he was basically the only living witness.
Dennis Bernstein: The only eyewitness, right?
Leslie Kean: The only living eyewitness, and he was interviewed very shortly after this crime by two different people in the hospital, and he indicated that there were three white men that committed the crime.
Kevin Cooper: In fact, they even found a police log in 2004, the same time they found that police log about that missing blue shirt, that indicated that they were looking for three young males driving the car they took.
Dennis Bernstein: [station ID an recap] A recent decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is sort of negative in that the entire court voted against your request for a new rehearing, but eleven federal judges are saying, based on lack of due process or their belief that you are guilty…
Kevin Cooper: You mean, their belief that I am innocent.
Dennis Bernstein: Exactly. And what I want to ask you, in terms of the entire process you’ve been talking with Leslie about – jury tampering, messing about with evidence, ignoring an eyewitness account, could you talk about the nature of some of the personnel and how racism plays into that?
Kevin Cooper: Down there in San Bernardino County where this case happened, is one of the most racist counties in this state. I mean, shortly after my arrest, they had a gorilla hung in effigy with a sign that said, “Hang the troglodyte”, speaking about me, calling me a troglodyte. They wanted to get their hands on Kevin Cooper so they can mete out their justice, you know the type of justice they always give black men who are accused of...
Dennis Bernstein: Say that again? Explain that again.
Kevin Cooper: They had a gorilla hung in effigy. And it had a sign that said, “Hang the troglodyte.” And they were calling me a troglodyte. And they said they wanted to get their hands on me. They wanted to give me justice, their form of justice.
Dennis Bernstein: And – by the way, I said “jury tampering”; I meant evidence tampering. What about questionable personnel and actions by personnel regarding the actual chain of custody of evidence?
Kevin Cooper: I’ll put it to you like this. The head criminologist, the person who was in charge of all the evidence that they used to convict me, was a heroin addict. He was fired shortly after my conviction for stealing five pounds of heroin out of the evidence locker.
Dennis Bernstein: His name?
Kevin Cooper: William Baird. He was a lieutenant, I believe. And he was using that heroin for his own personal use and to sell to drug dealers. Now, he didn’t stand trial. He didn’t do no time in prison or nothing, obviously. They just let him go. And this is the man who had another pair of tennis shoes just like the ones they claimed I had, which I didn’t have. He had a pair like that in the crime lab. He had all types of stuff in the crime lab. If you read Fletcher’s dissent, everything is in there. If anybody takes the time and looks it up and reads it, it’ll piss you off so much that you might even want to get involved in this movement – if you’re not already in it – to try to help save my life.
Because this is American justice, old school style. This is what they used to do to black men back in the day. This is what they are doing in the twenty-first century. But they’re not just doing it to me, Dennis. When I asked people to believe me, they wouldn’t do it. So I’m asking them to believe this judge. And if you believe that judge and all the other judges that are going along with him, then you have to ask yourself a bigger question. You have to ask yourself, “If they did this to Kevin Cooper, and these judges are saying they did, then how many other men and women are on death row or in prison in this country that had the same thing done to them by the same type of people that’s doing this to Kevin?” I am not so special of a person that these people will go out of their way to frame me and not do it to anyone else. I’m not the only person that they’d tell that about, I’m not the only person who they tampered with evidence, or threw away evidence, or do what they do, tampered with witnesses or whatever. This is in the system so deeply that people need to start to think, to put an end to this mess, that’s how I really feel. After you read that, it has to open a person’s eyes, if they want their eyes to be opened.
Dennis Bernstein: [station ID and recap] By the way, if you want to know a lot more about this case, more information about the case, you can go to http://www.SaveKevinCooper.org – is that correct? http://www.SaveKevinCooper.org and find out more information. There’s a petition there you might want to know more about.
Leslie Kean: On this website, http://www.SaveKevinCooper.org, there will be a link where people can go and read this recent filing by the Ninth Circuit. This is really an historic filing. It’s very rare that eleven judges will dissent in a hundred pages, 101 pages, so we encourage every one to go to http://www.SaveKevinCooper.org, get a link to the petition or the recent filing in the court, and you can read it for yourself. It lays out everything about his case that you would want to know.
Dennis Bernstein: Now we’re going to get cut off in a second. When we come back, we’re going to talk more about the case and more about the systematic injustice system that railroads poor people and people of color to the death house. We’re speaking with Kevin Cooper at San Quentin, facing death.
Kevin, one of the things we say on this program, we refer to it not as a matter of hyperbole, but we refer to the justice system as the criminal injustice system because there is a pattern and practice of racism and a situation where if you don’t have the money, usually to pay for the lawyers, you end up on death row and you die without a proper defense. You have become an expert in understanding how the system works and how it is stacked up against poor people and people of color. Could you talk a little bit about your research and your activities in this regard?
Kevin Cooper: Yes. I had an attorney that was appointed to me by a federal district judge, Marilyn Huff. His name was Robert Amidon. Marilyn Huff is the same judge that Judge Fletcher talks about very badly in his dissent. But this man, who was a criminal attorney, damn near got me executed because everything he did was against my best interests. But nonetheless, he was still getting paid, him and the people he had working with him.
So in this movement, I decided to take matters into my own hands because I have learned, as I said earlier, history is my teacher, and I have learned that, historically speaking, we people who are locked in these prisons have these attorneys who, for the most part, don’t give a damn about us because all we are to them is a paycheck. But I cared about me enough to get involved with this movement, to get involved with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, with Socialist Viewpoint, with Socialist Action, with a whole bunch of other different organizations and people, and together, we all formulated a plan. And the plan was to educate the public. And we did this, over and over and over again for years and years and years. And this is how, just before these people wanted to murder me, I somehow managed to get in touch with The Innocence Project and Santa Clara University.
And they ended up finding this law firm now, who took my case, Orrick, Herrington, and Sutliffe, and they did it pro bono. Now this law firm, [that] was a white collar or corporate law firm, saved my life! They’re not a criminal law firm. The criminal lawyer, who worked in the criminal justice system, damn near got me killed. Well this right there says a lot about this system, like the difference being the fact that besides them caring, but they also had the money. And money makes a difference. And through their hard work, they completely turned this case around. They got me a stay and they found out all this new evidence that we have now. And this evidence is what Fletcher speaks about in his dissent. Most of it we didn’t know.
But if you don’t have a committee of people, whether they’re lawyers or not, in your corner, you’re in trouble. If you don’t have people who care about you, who will fight for you and fight with you, you’re dead. And if you don’t have a powerful law firm, or powerful people, lawyers who care, who have the money to fight back, you’re damn sure dead. But I do know this: that if you keep on fighting, keep on working and don’t give up, there’s a chance. I had a chance. I mean, look at the law firm I have now and the work that they did and the evidence they uncovered, and the constitutional violations they discovered, I found out. And I’m still one decision away from being tortured and murdered by the state once they restart this killing machine up here in San Quentin prison. And believe me, I will be tortured in this prison just as well as or as good as any other person has been tortured in these death houses across this country. Make no mistake about that. Because these people tell you they don’t torture, because they tell you that this is humane, no, you don’t believe them, you can’t believe them. Though history tells you not to believe them. And I do not look forward to being tortured and murdered by the state of California.
Dennis Bernstein: I think it’s important to note, as you refer to torture and murder in every part of this process including the actual murder by lethal injection, it is interesting and important to note that one of the judges who supports your murder is named Judge Bybee and he was a key player in the Bush administration’s torture program.
Kevin Cooper: In 2004, I received a 9-2 decision for a stay. One of the two judges who refused to give me that stay was Judge Bybee. And now we come to find out that Judge Bybee was also one of the people who wrote those torture memos for the Bush-Cheney administration, allowing torture to happen to criminals or people they consider criminals, whether it is at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay or any other place around the world, he’s fine with them being tortured there, but he’s also fine with them being tortured here because he supports the death penalty. So torture is part of what he believes in. But these people that he’s torturing, and that he believes in torturing are all poor people. Not rich people, but poor people, and mostly people of color. He ain’t got no problem with that. Yet he can sit his ass upon the Ninth Circuit like some god, and dictate who should live and who should die and who should be tortured and who shouldn’t.
Dennis Bernstein: He may find himself before too long in some kind of dock in the various international tribunals – facing what? Crimes against humanity.
Kevin Cooper: Yeah, right. I’ll believe that when I see it.
Dennis Bernstein: [station ID and recap] You’ve done a lot of research on this. And I’m noting that more and more poor women are on death row. People don’t realize that there’s a death row at Chowchilla where many women are facing death. Is this because there are more and more poor people, so there will be more and more women who find themselves facing this similar situation?
Kevin Cooper: Historically speaking, women have always been on death row, whether that death row has been in their own homes where they’ve been victims of domestic violence or whether they’re shot and killed in the street or in prison. But there’s never much said about it. But believe me, these women that are down there most definitely are all poor. They have never been given “equal rights” in their entire life. And for the first time in their life, if they do get executed, they’ll be given equal rights. They’ll have equality of a male death row inmate because they’ll get the same amount of poison pumped in their body as I’ll get pumped into mine. So this is how they look at it because that’s the reality of this situation. These women, who are victims of all types of things, suffer in silence today as they have historically. You never hear the news media talk about women on death row in this state. But one day, you will. And they’ll talk about them so proudly. For the first time in so many years, the state of California’s going to execute a woman. You know, that’s a damn shame; that’s a disgusting thing that these people do. But they’ll do it. Other states have.
Leslie Kean: [station ID] Kevin, you mentioned earlier about the importance of having good lawyers and how very few death row inmates have them. We know you have good lawyers, but we also know it’s extremely important that people get involved and fight for your case. You need all the help you can get because you’re really going to be facing some serious possibility of being executed. And one person this station certainly covered a lot was Stanley Tookie Williams, who indeed, as I understand it, had pretty good lawyers. He got a lot of attention. And he was executed. He was also a friend of yours. And you were able to help him out along the years that you knew each other. And I’m just wondering if you could share with our listeners some of the information, some of the story of your relationship with him.
Kevin Cooper: He is my friend; he will always be my friend. He’s my brother; he will always be my brother, regardless of what Schwarzenegger or anybody else thinks about him. He’s a good man and it wasn’t so much that I taught him anything. I learned more from him than I could ever teach him, except when it came to the fact of him going through this ritual death the way they wanted to search his arms for his veins, the way they wanted to send a psychiatrist to his house and see if he was all right, the way he was going to mess with him psychologically. He didn’t know about that because he’d never been through it before. And as I said, before me, everybody else who had been through it ended up dying, so nobody knew what to expect. But because I got that stay, I was there to show him what I went through. So that is how I taught him a thing or two. But other than that, it was… They tortured him, and they murdered him and it came out in Fogel’s court that they did it, and they’re going to do the same thing to me and to everybody else. They’re just going to try to go about it differently.
Dennis Bernstein: And when we say torture, again, that includes a process by which they’ve deceived the public into suggesting and believing that lethal injection, this three-stage process, is humane. Could you please talk a little bit more about how that is massive and troubling torture?
Kevin Cooper: It’s not humane; there’s no…If this system was humane, they wouldn’t have to lie about it, they wouldn’t have to lie about the people, not just in this state but across the country, who’ve been tortured in these death houses. If it was humane, then the medical society, doctors and them, would be participating in it. But it’s not humane, it’s inhumane. People won’t even kill animals the same way they’re willing to kill us in this state and across the country. This lethal cocktail that they use has been banned by the people who murder animals. They won’t use that to kill an animal with. So, no, this is not humane, this is inhumane, this is torture. And because that poison that they pump in your body, you feel that. They’ve just got you paralyzed so you can’t scream. And then they tell people who witness body contortions and all these things, that their lying eyes didn’t see what their eyes told their brain they saw. This system is sick and the people who run it are sick. So no, I do not look forward to being strapped down on that gurney and have them put their needles in my arm and pump their poison in my body. I do not look forward to that process at all. And I am an innocent man. I had eleven, eleven federal circuit judges telling the world, warning the world, not just telling them, but warning them, that this state is about to execute an innocent man. And what’s the world going to do? They’re gonna step up to the plate and show everyone how humane you are or are they just going to turn a blind eye to my murder like they do everyone else, because [connection was cut off] that’s what they do in this thing called America.
Dennis Bernstein: Now, you have your lawyers bringing an appeal before the Supreme Court and then, there is, I believe, possible there’s actually two other possibilities in terms of you not being executed. You’ve got the Supreme Court. You’ve got the Governor. And I understand the President has the power also to commute. But, let me ask you, if the Supreme Court turns you down will you apply to the Governor of California for a stay or clemency?
Kevin Cooper: No.
Dennis Bernstein: Why? That’s another option, isn’t it?
Kevin Cooper: No. I will not go to Arnold Schwarznegger and ask him for clemency. I made my mind up about that the first time around when he denied me clemency without even looking at information that we provided him. Further, I got more convinced of this the way they played with Stanley Tookie Williams and his clemency appeal; they made him wait until the last minute. They got his hopes up high then let him down at the last minute. I will never give this man the opportunity or the power to turn me down about what is mine. Something that he didn’t give me and something he has no right to take, which is my life. If I did that, if I went to that man ever again, I surely would be losing my self respect. White men like him act like they’re God, thinking they’re somebody special, thinking that they have that power over life and death, that they can decide who should live and who should die, no if I lose in the United States Supreme Court, if they don’t hear my case, then I’m just dead. When they start this machine up, they’ll either kill Mike Morales first and then me, and they’ll pick up where they left off, or they will do me and do him.
Dennis Bernstein: And then it’ll be a chain reaction. They’ll be doing a lot of people.
Kevin Cooper: Yes they will, and this will become just like Texas out here. You might as well call this Texas West. California, Texas, it’ll be one thing. They’ll be doing inmate after inmate after inmate.
Dennis Bernstein: We’re speaking to Kevin Cooper on death row, there for 25 years. Now, the President of the United States, a great to do has been made about the significant historic election of an African-American to the highest office of the land. The President of the United States has the power to pardon and commute a sentence. Would you appeal to the President? Would you ask your supporters to intercede into a situation where, you say an innocent man is about to be murdered and a federal judge seems to agree with you?
Kevin Cooper: My supporters have minds of their own. They do what they do. I don’t have to tell them to do nothing. And it would be disrespectful for me to tell them to do anything because they’re adults. They do what they do. But me personally, no. Because I don’t believe they’ll do it. And I’m tired of getting my hopes up just to be let down. I don’t believe in the system that, well, I used to believe in the system, because I’m innocent. You know? I used to believe that these people would do the right thing. But the longer I stayed in the system and the more evidence that we found or discovered or proved that shows that I’m innocent and that they did frame me and are framing me, the more and more they seem to get angry that we found this evidence and are determined to persecute me even more. So this system is not only corrupt and bankrupt, it’s run by some that are, as is evident by Judge Fletcher and those other judges that voted with him, that not all judges are bad, but there’s enough of them in there that this system is corrupt. This system is corrupt to the core. These people don’t even follow their own laws. The laws tell you that the prosecution cannot withhold material exculpatory evidence, that a guy has a right to due process. But they don’t give a damn. They say, “So what? It’s procedurally barred, or this, or that, or whatever.” They don’t care about the lives of poor people. So no, I’m not with the system. If I get turned down probably in October, then I’m dead. But the one thing that they can’t take away from me, or the people that support me, is the fact that we did prove that they framed me. We did prove I am innocent. Those eleven judges proved it.
Leslie Kean: Kevin, the other thing that they can’t take away from you is your dignity. And you mentioned dignity earlier and you were not going to appeal for clemency because you want to maintain your dignity. You have managed to maintain dignity and lots of other incredibly admirable qualities while living in this tiny cage on death row. I wonder if you could tell us how you do that. I know it’s a huge question and maybe almost a superficial question, but it’s really an amazing way that you have maintained your sanity, your dignity, and what life is like there in that hell hole and how you’re able to keep yourself together so well?
Kevin Cooper: I don’t know. But life, the human spirit is strong. Human beings, some of us, we can adapt to anything, if we work hard enough. And the fact that I am innocent. I am proved innocent. That has kept me going for all these years. I never gave up hope. I still got hope. I mean, as you stated earlier, what these 11 judges did, may be historic. It may be unprecedented. For all the years I have been fighting I have never heard of 11 judges doing that as one block like that, or writing not just a dissent but proving bit by bit by bit, how they planted evidence, how they destroyed evidence, so this gives me some hope. More judges have agreed with me or agree with us than are on the United States Supreme Court. So, maybe that will mean something to the U.S. Supreme Court. Maybe they’ll say “Look, let’s look at this.” If they look at it, we’ll win, because the Constitution is on my side. They didn’t just frame me and do what they did to me, they also violated my constitutional rights. And there are various violations starting with Brady vs. Maryland. So, I have hope, but my hope is not to the extent that is unrealistic, that I don’t think that these people won’t kill me, because I know they would. I know that innocence makes no difference. I know that I am just one decision from being shot down. And if that is the case we did what we set out to do, in a way, which was to prove my innocence. Those people wouldn’t lie for me.
Dennis Bernstein: You’re listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio. That’s the voice of Kevin Cooper. I’m Dennis Bernstein here with Leslie Kean. We’re speaking with Kevin Cooper on death row in San Quentin. That’s all the noise, and the beeps, and the interruptions that you hear in the background. They make a conversation very difficult as they make everything nearly impossible for death row prisoners. They are prisoners of the state and that’s the word, and you’ve been in the little cage for some 25 years. Do you do 100 pushups? Do you have beautiful posters on the wall, I mean what is it that you look at that helps you? You’re perhaps in a place in one of the most beautiful places in the world in terms of where it’s built, right on the Pacific Bay there, right by the Golden Gate Bridge, great harbor front land. I’m surprised the real estate people didn’t throw you inland. But, you don’t get to see it, do you?
Kevin Cooper: That’s a yes and no question. I go outside. You know this place here is a contradiction. It’s beautiful real estate around here. We get to go outside. We get to look up and see the sky, the birds. We can see the Richmond San Rafael Bridge, and things like that depending on where you’re located. I understand that. I have painting up in here because I’m an artist. I paint. I work out inside. I work out outside. I don’t do 100 pushups. Sometimes I do 400, 500, sometimes 300, sometimes 200. I exercise. I do what I do, because the human spirit, my human spirit, will not allow me to give up. I work out. I exercise my mind by reading a lot, writing a lot, interacting with my friends like Crystal, Rebecca, Carole, Jeff, Leslie and her son Paul, people. They come and visit me. I try to stay active out in that world. I’m just a human being, man. That’s it. I’m trying to survive this mess with the help of a lot of people, my will, my inner strength, my ancestors who I so strongly believe in. I try to understand their lives under situations that were far worse than mine, but some how they managed to make a life for themselves. I go on. I continue to live. That’s all I can do is live, day by day, one day at a time. But I have hope and hope is a strong thing. Hope is life. If a person don’t have hope, they don’t have no life. So up until the last minute I will have hope.
Dennis Bernstein: Would you like to make a final statement in this interview in terms of people out in the listening audience, people around the country, people facing similar circumstances as you?
Kevin Cooper: I would like to thank everybody who has helped to end the death penalty, not just helped me but helped everybody because we all need help. Because, this, as we all know, is not about me. It’s not about any one person. It’s about a system that has historically and systematically murdered men, women, and children who look just like me, because they can do it, just because they can do it. We need help. We do. We’ve got our backs up against the wall. These people got a whole history showing how they can kill us and get away with it and pat themselves on the back, “Good job.” Just like they been doing throughout the history of this country. So we need you to get involved to fight for human rights, to fight for humanity, to fight for us, to fight for yourself! Because you don’t have to commit a crime in this country to go to jail. And you don’t have to commit a murder to go to death row. All these exonerations should tell you that, should teach you that. So what are you going to do if something happens to you? Who are you going to call? Who’s going to be there for you if you’re not there for somebody else? You know, what you give out comes back to you. One of the reasons why I honestly believe that I have help is because I have helped a lot of people. Because what you put out there comes back. So I’m asking you to please get involved in this. Not just for me, take me out there, do it for humanity. Do it for Oscar Grant. Do it for his family. Do it for Shaun Bell. Do it for all the Black men and women, the poor white men and women who have been murdered between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans by the same system who says they are supposed to protect and serve. The same type of system that allows Oscar Grant to be murdered is the same system that trying to kill me! It’s the same system that supports the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan. The time has come to stand up and do what you can as an adult, a human being, and help put an end to this.
Dennis Bernstein: If people want to learn more about this case: http://www.savekevincooper.org you can read some of his writings and all that you would need to understand the recent decisions and what the battle is in front of Kevin who is now appealing to the Supreme Court through his lawyers this most recent decision, and maintaining all the way through his innocence.
We’ve been listening to an interview with Kevin Cooper. I want to tell you a little bit about how that interview came about. I’m forced, and believe me, there’s a little queasiness inside of me, but I’m forced to interrupt that interview to protect this program and to protect this radio network that is in trouble. [This is right before a pitch for the station’s fund drive] But that interview with Kevin Cooper, which was co-hosted by Leslie Kean, a former senior producer and co-host of Flashpoints!, was conducted yesterday with the help of Kelia Ramirez and the support of the news department…And Leslie was a key producer. Leslie had spent time this week, along with Crystal Bybee, with Kevin Cooper. Leslie Kean has been visiting Kevin Cooper for ten years. Leslie Kean has done key investigations, was doing major investigations that led to that 9-2 stay within three hours of the murder of what eleven federal judges say might be an innocent man. At that time, Leslie Kean, five years ago, was in the death house. She was asked to witness the murder. That’s the connection that this program makes with death row. This program has spoken to three, including Stanley Tookie Williams, three black men who ultimately were murdered by the state. The interview’s 54 minutes long, and we’re calling it “Saving the Life of an Innocent Man.”
Today on a special Memorial Day edition of Flashpoints, We re-broadcast the full hour of death row prisoner Kevin Cooper, in an in-depth interview about his case, and the criminal injustice system.