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Is California About to Execute an Innocent Man?

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“Free Me” painting by Kevin Cooper Kevin Cooper

This is part one of a two-part interview. To listen to part two, click here.

Three hours and 42 minutes. That's how close Kevin Cooper came in 2004 to being murdered by the state, strapped down to a gurney and poisoned via lethal injection. He had been placed in what he calls a "death chamber waiting room" and stripped of all his clothes before he was granted a stay of execution. Five years later, in an unprecedented dissent, five federal judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion that began: "The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man."

A rash of evidence would appear to substantiate their claim. In the opinion, Judge William A. Fletcher details multiple Brady disclosures—key information that had been ignored or actively suppressed that would compromise the case against Cooper. Yet as of this year, he is no closer to receiving state-of-the-art DNA testing and a new hearing, despite the support for new DNA tests by California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. Due to the passage of Prop 66, which dramatically shortens the death penalty appeals process, Cooper's execution could be expedited without his ever receiving a fair hearing.

"I’ve had years of post-traumatic stress disorder from having survived that near-death experience at the hands of these volunteer executioners, who are paid by the taxpayers of California," he tells Robert Scheer from death row at San Quentin State Prison. "And what I wanted to say earlier...was this is America. And the death penalty is a part of America; it’s a tradition in America. This crime against humanity is nothing new."

In part one of a two-part episode of "Scheer Intelligence," Cooper reveals how he has maintained his sanity after 33 years in a cell that's four and a half feet wide and 11 feet long, waiting for a justice that never seems to arrive. "It’s not just that easy," he admits. "I mean, in order to understand what I’m going through, you’d have to go through it yourself, on a personal experience basis. People have bathrooms in their homes that are larger than this cage that I’m in right now...Everything I do, from doing a painting or writing a letter or anything else, I do from within this cage. So I had to turn this cage into something other than a cage. I had to turn it into a classroom, I had to turn it into a church—when I want to go to church, I turn this cage into a church."

Cooper also explains, with remarkable eloquence, how his individual struggle is part of a continuum that stretches from the genocide of indigenous people's through chattel slavery to the mass incarceration and capital punishment of the present day. "The same type of people who were enslaved back then are the same type of people who are enslaved now," he contends. "The same type of people who were doing the enslaving back then are the same type of people who are doing the mass incarcerations today. I mean, there is no difference. Things have changed, technology has changed, but the evilness that brought us... our slavery back then is the same evilness that’s in the hearts and the minds of the people who are doing this death penalty thing today."

Credits

Host:
Robert Scheer

Producer:
Joshua Scheer