The first death row prisoner due to be executed in California under the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger was granted a late reprieve yesterday after a spirited campaign by Hollywood stars.
Just hours before he was due to be put to death by lethal injection, Kevin Cooper learnt that a petition by his lawyers would be heard by a federal appeals court at an unspecified date in the future.
Cooper, convicted of a quadruple murder in southern California in 1983, has consistently maintained his innocence and accused the police of planting evidence at the crime scene.
At the time of the murders he was on the run from prison and was hiding out in a house next door to the Ryen family, three of whom were hacked to death along with a young family friend.
New witnesses have recently come forward supporting Cooper's claim that the murders were committed by a trio of drug dealers who were either white or Hispanic. Cooper is black, and five of the jurors who convicted him have said the case needs to be reopened.
Governor Schwarzenegger came under intense pressure last week after deciding not to exercise his powers of clemency. About 100 protesters gathered for a candle-lit vigil at his home in the Brentwood suburb of Los Angeles on Sunday.
The campaign against Cooper's sentence is supported by the actors Sean Penn and Denzel Washington, the black activist Jesse Jackson and the former death row inmate Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the boxer immortalised by Bob Dylan as an emblem of criminal injustice in America.
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