Kevin Cooper (pictured) is a death-row prisoner in California who was convicted of murdering four people in 1985. He has maintained his innocence of the offense. On January 13, 2023, a special counsel appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to conduct an independent investigation of Cooper’s case released a report dismissing his claims of innocence, stating, “The evidence of Cooper’s guilt is extensive and conclusive.”

In response, Cooper’s attorneys made the following statement: “The special counsel’s investigation ordered by Governor Newsom in May 2021 was not properly conducted and is demonstrably incomplete. It failed to carry out the type of thorough investigation required to explore the extensive evidence that Mr. Cooper was wrongfully convicted.”

Cooper’s attorneys argue that the evidence cited in the report raises questions about the findings of the investigation. Cooper maintains he was framed by the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, and that a man named Lee Furrow committed the murder. Two construction workers, who had worked with Furrow in Pennsylvania, told California’s independent investigator that in 2018 they heard Furrow say, “me and my boys, we butchered a whole family.”

In addition, Furrow’s former girlfriend told the investigator that she saw Furrow wearing coveralls covered with bloodstains. Six months later, the sheriff’s deputy questioned Furrow and disposed of the coveralls without testing the bloodstains. Josh Ryen, the only survivor of the attack attributed to Cooper, told the police, “That wasn’t the guy that did it,” after seeing a photo of Cooper.

Cooper’s attorneys assert that prosecutorial misconduct is also central to the case: “Most fundamentally, we are shocked that the governor seemingly failed to conduct a thorough review of the report that contains many misstatements and omissions and also ignores the purpose of a legitimate innocence investigation, which is to independently determine whether Mr. Cooper’s conviction was a product of prosecutorial misconduct.” The special counsel noted in the report that it did not assess whether Cooper’s trial had been unfair and “improperly influenced by Cooper’s race.”