The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a California death row inmate who was convicted in the gruesome murders of four people in 1983.
The justices said Monday they would not review an appeals court ruling that upheld the murder conviction and death sentence of Kevin Cooper.
Cooper came within a few hours of execution in 2004 before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stepped in to order genetic testing on a hair and a bloody shirt found at the murder scene that Cooper said would prove he was not the killer.
The San Francisco-based appeals court later backed a district judge's ruling that the test results did not show Cooper's innocence.
Cooper, who has long maintained his innocence, had escaped from a California state prison. He was convicted of the murders of Douglas and Peggy Ryen, both 41, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and Christopher Hughes, her friend. They were stabbed and hacked repeatedly with a hatchet and buck knife. Joshua Ryen, then 8, survived a slit throat.
Cooper claimed a trio of murderers committed the attacks and said the DNA tests would exonerate him.
Prosecutors persuaded a jury of Cooper's guilt, but the investigation was plagued with problems.
Judge M. Margaret McKeown agreed with the outcome in the 9th Circuit, but noted that important evidence in Cooper's case was "lost, destroyed or left unpursued." That included blood-covered overalls that a detective threw away and a missing bloody T-shirt.
"The forensic evidence in this case is critical and yet was compromised," she wrote. "These facts are all the more troubling because Cooper's life is at stake."
McKeown also said the criminologist in charge of the evidence turned out to be a heroin addict who was later fired for stealing drugs seized by the police.
"The result is wholly discomforting," she wrote. "But one that the law demands."
The case is Cooper v. Wong, 09-363.