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Opinion | Is Kevin Cooper an Innocent Man?

Yet Cooper remains in prison. That’s partly because the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office continues to resist an investigation into whether he is innocent, just as it previously resisted comprehensive DNA testing.

The D.A.’s office notes, for example, that Cooper’s blood was found on that tan T-shirt apparently worn by the murderer. That’s true: Testing years ago confirmed that it is Cooper’s blood — but also suggests that sheriff’s deputies spilled the blood on the shirt to frame him.

Deputies took a sample of Cooper’s blood after his arrest, using a chemical called EDTA to preserve it in the test tube. Cooper’s blood on that shirt had elevated EDTA in it; in other words, it seemed to have come not from his body directly, but from a test tube.

In addition, before the latest round of DNA testing, a vial of Cooper’s blood was found to be nearly empty, with just residue in the bottom.

“Based on my 25 years of experience with DNA testing, I can’t imagine any testing that would consume that much blood, even with multiple rounds of testing,” said Bicka Barlow, a DNA expert and lawyer who is consulting for Cooper’s side.

Relatives of the victims are convinced that Cooper is guilty, and San Bernardino authorities argue that there is plenty of forensic evidence against him — a bloodstain, shoe prints, cigarette butts, and so on. If you trust the sheriff’s office, it’s compelling. But significant questions have been raised about every element of this “evidence,” with indications that it was systematically planted to frame Cooper.

Could the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office really have planted evidence, including placing Cooper’s blood on the tan T-shirt? We do know that the sheriff’s office had a history of going rogue. Floyd Tidwell, the sheriff, was himself later convicted of four felony counts for stealing 523 guns from the evidence room. Tidwell denied any wrongdoing in the Cooper case; he died last February. Also, one of the sheriff’s lab technicians on the case, William Baird, acknowledged to me that he had stolen heroin from the evidence room, but denied having framed Cooper.

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