Kevin Cooper Convicted in 4 Chino Hills Ax Murders : Escapee Faces Death Sentence
Kevin Cooper was convicted today of the brutal June, 1983 ax murders of four people who were hacked and stabbed to death in a Chino Hills home.
The jury returned the guilty verdict at 1:30 p.m. ending a five-month trial that was moved here because of extensive pretrial publicity in San Bernardino County. The conviction was for murder with “special circumstances” meaning Cooper could be sentenced to death. He also was convicted of one count of attempted murder.
Cooper, 27, was charged with the murders of Doug and Peg Ryen, both 41; their daughter, Jessica, 10, and Christopher Hughes, 11, in the Ryen home. Their hacked and stabbed bodies were discovered on June 5, 1983, by young Hughes’ father, three days after Cooper escaped from the Chino Institution for Men. Cooper was also charged with attempted murder in the attack on Joshua Ryen, the Ryens’ 9-year-old son, who survived a slashed throat and blows to the head.
Paper Work Foul-Up
Cooper, a convicted burglar, was serving a three-year sentence under the alias David Trautman when he walked away from the prison’s minimum-security wing after a paper work foul-up. Cooper’s true identity was learned after his escape, along with information that he was wanted in Pennsylvania for another escape and on separate charges of rape and kidnaping.
San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Dennis Kottmeier, handicapped by an absence of any direct evidence linking Cooper to the killings, built his case solely on circumstantial evidence. Kottmeier entered into evidence partial shoe prints found at the murder scene and at a nearby house where Cooper admittedly hid after the escape, and traces of prison-issued tobacco found in the Ryen station wagon in his effort to tie Cooper to the crime.
The verdict ended a trial that was highlighted with contradictory testimony from many of the 141 witnesses. Included among the conflicting testimony were differing statements made by Joshua Ryen to investigators and hospital officials about his attacker or attackers.
When Joshua was airlifted to Loma Linda University Hospital on June 5, the boy indicated to a sheriff’s deputy and a clinical social worker that his attackers were three white men. In a second interview with the deputy an hour later, Joshua said his attackers were three Latino men. On June 15, the boy told another deputy that Cooper was not the killer, after seeing his picture on a television newscast.
‘Shadow on the Wall’
Joshua testified on videotape during the trial and identified his attacker as only “a shadow on the wall.”
During the trial, Cooper took the stand for five days. Despite three grueling days of cross-examination by Kottmeier, Cooper remained cool and confident and steadfastly maintained his innocence.
After escaping from Chino prison, Cooper fled to Tijuana and Ensenada, where he signed on as a deckhand on a small boat. He was recaptured on July 30, 1983, on an island 20 miles south of Santa Barbara and arrested on charges of rape, unlawful sodomy, forcible oral copulation and assault with a deadly weapon. None of those charges were connected to the Chino Hills murders.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.