SAN DIEGO -- A former mental patient who escaped from prison with the aid of a paperwork foulup, was convicted of murdering four people hacked to death at a ranch near a vacant house he had used as a hideout.
Kevin Cooper, 28, of Pittsburgh, Pa., was also convicted Tuesday of single counts of attempted murder and causing great bodily injury.
The jury, which deliberated five days, will reconvene Thursday for the penalty phase to determine if Cooper should be sentenced to the gas chamber or life in prison without possibility of parole.
Cooper was convicted of the murders of Doug and Peggy Ryen, both 41-year-old chiropractors; their daughter, Jessica, 10, and a visiting neighbor boy, Christopher Hughes, 11, at their Arabian horse ranch in Chino Hills, 50 miles east of Los Angeles.
The victims were hacked, slashed and stabbed to death with a hatchet, knife and icepick. A total of 144 wounds were found on the victims of a crime one veteran investigator called the most gruesome he had ever seen.
The Ryens' son, Joshua, now 11, survived the attack despite severe head wounds and a slashed throat. He testified by videotape that he saw only a shadow on the wall of his parents' bedroom before he was struck down from behind.
Mary Howell, Joshua's grandmother, cried softly after the verdicts, expressing her relief.
'I would have been disappointed if the jury had come in any other way,' she said. 'I'm glad. All I can do is picture my family and what was done to them.'
She said she would like to say 'thank you' to the jury and said she had just one question to ask Cooper, 'Why?'
Cooper, a convicted burglar and an escaped mental patient from Pennsylvania, where he was accused of rape and kidnapping, appeared nervous as the jury filed into court, then stood silently with his attorney's hand on his shoulder as the verdicts were announced.
Most of the prosecution case in the four-month trial was based on circumstantial evidence such as blood samples and shoe prints linking Cooper to the massacre scene.
Cooper admitted he used a vacant house near the Ryen home as a hideout after escaping from the minimum security section of nearby Chino prison in June 1983, but insisted he was never at the death site.
Cooper made his way to Ensenada, Mexico, where he hired on an American sailboat as a deckhand, using an assumed name. His true identity was discovered in Santa Barbara when he was arrested for a rape committed shortly after the boat arrived a month after the slayings.
Cooper was sent to Chino prison under an alias on a Los Angeles County burglary conviction. Placed in minimum security because authorities fouled up his records, his identify as an escape risk and suspected rapist was not discovered until after the escape.
The trial was moved to San Diego from San Bernardino County because of extensive pre-trial publicity.