Dec. 25 (UPI) -- California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday ordered new DNA tests on four items that could exonerate a condemned inmate in a 35-year-old murder case.
Specifically, Brown called for new tests on a tan t-shirt, orange towel found near the murder scene and the hatchet handle and sheath. Kevin Cooper, the death row inmate, and his attorneys say the testing those items will prove he was framed for 1983 Chino Hills hatchet and knife murders that killed four people.
"I take no position as to Mr. Cooper's guilt or innocence at this time, but colorable factual questions have been raised about whether advances in DNA technology warrant limited retesting of certain physical evidence in this case," Brown wrote in his executive order.
In 1985, Cooper was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter and 11-year-old neighbor.
Mike Ramos, San Bernardino County District Attorney, says two prior tests showed that the 60-year-old inmate had smoked a cigarette in Ryen's stolen station wagon and that a t-shirt with the blood of one victim was found on the side of the road that lead away from the killings.
But Cooper and his attorneys say that evidence was planted.
"I am the only person in the history of the state to have five federal circuit judges say that 'the state of California may be about to execute an innocent man,'" Cooper said to NBC News in 2016.
The top federal court in California, the Ninth Circuit, had said that prosecutors illegally held back evidence that showed Cooper was innocent of the crimes. But the court upheld his conviction anyway.
Celebrities and politicians like Sen. Kamala Harris, California state treasurer John Chiang, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and reality TV star Kim Kardashian West pushed back against the decision, asking Brown to order new DNA tests.
Brown ordered the new tests along with 143 pardons and 131 commutations, as one of his last acts as governor before leaving office in January.
The last time California executed an inmate was 2006.