SACRAMENTO - State Senator Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) on Saturday called on Governor Jerry Brown to allow DNA testing in the case of convicted murderer and death row inmate Kevin Cooper.
Vidak issued the following statement:
"I support Mr. Cooper's request to Governor Brown for new DNA testing in his case. I believe that if new tests can either confirm his guilt or prove his innocence, then Mr. Cooper and the victims' families deserve the opportunity for more advanced testing to provide clarity as to whether or not he committed these horrible crimes. I have not followed this case closely and have not been swayed by media conjecture and conspiracy theories, but since Mr. Cooper maintains his innocence, it is fair and reasonable that we take advantage of advances in DNA testing to see if it can be proven if he is in fact guilty or that he is innocent. In addition to Mr. Cooper's rights, the victims and their families deserve justice and they deserve to know whether or not the right person was convicted. If new testing can help give us a final answer, then Mr. Cooper's request should be granted. I don’t believe the County or State should be forced to pay for this DNA testing, and since Mr. Cooper’s defense attorneys have indicated that they will incur those costs themselves, I see no reason to delay or prevent the testing from taking place as soon as possible – especially considering that a man’s life is at stake. Going forward, I will continue to support the testing of DNA evidence where it exists in cases when a convicted person maintains their innocence. I also will support law enforcement using DNA evidence to identify suspects in criminal cases and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law in order to help keep our communities safe."
Vidak wrote a letter to Governor Brown earlier this year, signed by eight other legislators, calling on Brown not to release convicted murderer Susan Lee Russo. Following Vidak’s letter, Governor Brown in June denied Russo’s release from prison.
DNA testing can be used to help conclusively prove the guilt or innocence of an individual in some cases. Four cases below from Virginia help show the benefits of taking advantage of DNA tests to prove a person’s guilt or innocence:
- DNA testing conducted in 2006, 14 years after the 1992 execution of Roger Coleman, proved conclusively that Coleman did in fact murder his sister-in-law, despite his claims of innocence up until the night of his execution.
- In 2011, Thomas Haynesworth was exonerated by the Virginia Court of Appeals after DNA testing conclusively proved that he did not commit a series rapes and assaults in the City of Richmond and neighboring Henrico County. In addition, the DNA testing implicated a serial rapist who resembled Haynesworth, lived in the same neighborhood as him, and had the same blood type as him. Haynesworth spent 27 years in prison before being cleared.
- In 2016, DNA testing proved conclusively that Joe Stevenson was in fact guilty of raping a robbing a Virginia Beach woman in 1974. He was convicted in 1975 and remains in prison today on a life sentence.
- In 2016, after 33 years in prison, Keith Allen Harward was released from prison after DNA testing proved conclusively that he did not murder Jesse Perron in 1982. The Virginia Attorney General’s Office supported Harward’s petition for a writ of actual innocence.