On Friday afternoon, California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he signed an executive order to launch an independent probe in the case of a death row inmate whose quadruple murder conviction has been questioned for more than three decades.

The investigation is in response to a clemency request from Kevin Cooper, 63, a black man who was sentenced to death for the 1983 killings of Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their ten-year-old daughter Jessica, and Christopher Hughes, an 11-year-old unrelated house guest. According to the Los Angeles Times, “they were found hacked and slashed to death in a Chino Hills home…stabbed a total of 143 times with an ice pick, an ax and a knife.”

8-year-old Joshua Ryan survived the attack and later told law enforcement and a social worker that the killers were three white men, then said they were Latino, and later claimed Cooper was not the murderer after seeing him on television.

Cooper had escaped from a prison in Chino two days before the slayings.

The Times reported that “Cooper has maintained his innocence throughout and has accused law enforcement of planting evidence and ignoring statements by witnesses that could have helped exonerate him.”

“The investigation will review trial and appellate records in the case, the facts underlying the conviction and all available evidence, including the results of the recently conducted DNA tests previously ordered by the Governor to examine additional evidence in the case using the latest, most scientifically reliable forensic testing,” a news release from Newsom’s office said.

The governor’s order references “starkly different views” of how new DNA test results “should be interpreted and the reliability and integrity of certain evidence.”

Newsom, who is facing the threat of a recall, said in the order that he takes “no position regarding Mr. Cooper’s guilt or innocence, or whether to grant executive clemency,” but needs “to be satisfied that all relevant evidence is carefully and fairly examined.”

He appointed the international law firm of Morrison and Foerster, LLP to serve as Special Counsel to the Board of Parole Hearings during the investigation.

Norman Hile, an attorney representing Cooper, told the L.A. Times that the legal team is “gratified” by Newsom’s decision, adding, “We are confident that a thorough review will demonstrate that Kevin Cooper is innocent and should be released from prison.”

More from The Times:

San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Jason Anderson said the new DNA evidence confirms that Cooper is guilty of the murders, and he criticized Newsom for ignoring the findings of the jury in Cooper’s criminal trial and decades of judicial decisions that confirmed his guilt.

“We would ask the executive branch to respect the findings of 38 years of decision making within the judicial branch that’s confirmed Kevin Cooper’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt every time,” Anderson said. “There are no unanswered questions. So for this to be ordered is inappropriate.”

Governor Newsom also announced on Friday that he had granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations, and 8 medical reprieves. He has granted a total of 86 pardons, 92 commutations, and 28 reprieves since taking office.

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