tv Death Row Stories CNN October 3, 2015 11:00pm-12:01am PDT
ns by vitac -- www.vitac.com on this episode of death row stories, a family is found brutally murdered. >> the severity of the crime puts it on another level. >> and an escaped convict is sentenced to death. >> they caught him, they should do away with him. >> but just hours before his execution, a new defense team raises doubts about his guilt. >> you let the evidence lead you to a suspect. what they did in this case was exactly the opposite. evidence destruction, evidence tampering. my client was framed. >> there's a body in the water. >> he was butchered and murdered. >> many people proclaim their innocence. >> in this case, there are a number of things that stink. >> this man is remorseless.
>> he needs to pay for it with his life. >> the electric chair flashed in front of my eyes. >> get a conviction at all costs. let the truth fall where it may. ♪ chino hills is very rural. very peaceful. lot of horse ranches. we all knew each other. we didn't lock our doors. just a quaint little community. >> the sleepy hamlet of chino hills silting nestled below the san bernardino mountains, less than 40 miles from los angeles. there, peggy ryen, a horse trainer and her husband doug
lived on a ranch with their children, 10-year-old jessica and 8-year-old josh. on the night of june 4th, 1983, josh ryan's friend chris hughes was invited to spend the night. >> on a hill overlooking chino, the scene of a multiple homicide. we have four fatal victims. one victim approximately 8 years of age. the eyes are open, however, there's no response. >> the next morning, chris hughes' father discovered the lifeless bodies of his son chris as well as doug and peggy ryen and their daughter jessica. among the carnage, first responders also found 8-year-old josh ryen. he was still breathing but barely. he was immediately airlifted to a nearby hospital.
>> i first arrived with sheriff floyd tidwell. each of the victims had a combination of hatchet and knife wounds. this was such a brutal crime. >> the severity of the crime puts it on another level. i think we'd be lying if we didn't say that. >> we were trying to figure out a motive for these killings and couldn't come up with anything. nothing made sense. >> we heard there had been a murder up on the hill. as a community, our hearts grieved for these people. they're horse people. they were our people. >> how could anybody do this? it just doesn't make sense. they were the type of people no one would ever hate. ever.
>> on the same day the bodies were found, a chino hills resident stumbled onto another discovery. one of the murder weapons lying on the side of the road. >> the hatchet had the victims' blood on it, but it didn't have any fingerprints on it. >> nearby, a tan, blood-stained t-shirt was also found. as the search continued, police received a tip from the ryen's next door neighbor, larry lease. >> mr. lease said i think you might be interested in seeing my rental house. >> the rental house supposedly unoccupied at the time of the murders, held a major piece of evidence. a sheath that fit the ax used in the murders. >> we knew that whoever had been in the lease house committed the murders at the ryen house.
and in the closet, we found a small box of prison issued tobacco from chino institution for men. we checked with prison authorities. got names of any individuals that had escaped within the past week. all of a sudden, we had a suspect. kevin cooper. >> just two days before the murders, 25-year-old kevin cooper had escaped from the california institute for men, a prison just five miles from the ryens' home. police believe he hid at the lease out before killing the ryens and chris hughes. with cooper still at large, san bernardino sheriff floyd tidwell took to the air waves. >> we have evidence in our possession that places kevin cooper at the crime scene. and we have other evidence that gives us cause to believe that
kevin cooper was responsible for the murders. >> police patrolled on both sides of the california/mexico border today, seeking the escaped convict kevin cooper. >> tidwell launched one of the largest man hunts in state history, circulating photoing of cooper and the ryens' stolen station wagon. >> there is growing fear in the california community of chino. >> i want to know what the state officials are going to do. >> as pressure mounted to apprehend cooper, police caught a break. >> we recovered the ryens' station wagon from a church parking lot in long beach. cooper had used that car to escape. for district attorney kottmeier, the motive behind the murders was now clear. >> cooper's motive was to get the hell out of chino hills.
if he had to kill people to cover his escape, then he would. >> the killer seemed to be within reach. but then the trail went cold. ♪ on july 30th, 1983, almost two months after the brutal murders, the u.s. coast guard responded to a distress call near santa barbara. they arrived at a sailboat moored in a small marina, the scene of an alleged rape. >> when we got in the sheriff's station, the victim of the rape was walking by the wanted posters and saw cooper's wanted picture. and said oh, my god, i've been raped by kevin cooper.
>> kevin cooper escaped an almost two-month-long murder manhunt, and police caught him trying to swim away from the scene of an alleged rape. >> the rape allegation was never pursued, because cooper now faced four counts of first degree murder. each carrying the death penalty. >> i hope you die! give him the gas chamber! >> when cooper was returned to san bernardino, racial tensions boiled over. >> local authorities say they've received several calls from outraged residents who demanded cooper be sent to the gas chamber. >> they caught him. they should do away with him. >> we're seeking the death penalty ago we have all along. >> cooper's trial began on object 23rd, 1984. >> i cross-examined him for a day and a half. cooper said, yeah, i was at the lease house. i never went up to the ryen house.
it wasn't me. it must have been someone else who did this. >> kottmeier countered the testimony by showing the jury the hatchet found in the lease house and the bloody footprint found in the ryens' bedroom. >> in the folds of that sheet was a half-bloody footprint. now those soles were unique. and we were able to determine that the shoe print was made by a prison-issue pro ked tennis shoe. >> blood found at the murder scene also led back to cooper. >> a-41 was a single drop blood in the hallway and cooper matched it. >> finally, kottmeier played the emotional videotaped testimony of the lone survivor, josh ryen. >> have you tried to forget what happened that night? >> yeah. >> what have you tried to do to forget it?
>> i cut myself. >> cooper's defense would argue that the police mishandled evidence and the investigation. but after seven days of deliberations, the jury found kevin cooper guilty on all counts. >> there is no question. there is no doubt about the guilt of kevin cooper. the only justice in this case is for kevin cooper to face his maker and then spend the rest of his days in hell. >> we the jury of the above-entitled cause, determine that the penalty shall be death. >> kevin cooper would spend the next two decades on death row. but in 2003, a new defense team investigated cooper's case and made a string of discoveries they felt proved kevin cooper's
innocence. >> i began to learn all of the facts about the evidence destruction, the evidence tampering, the false testimony that was given and the failure of the defense team to put on evidence that showed who the real killers were. the state of california is about to execute an innocent man. when you're not confident your company's data is secure, the possibility of a breach can quickly become the only thing you think about. that's where at&t can help. at at&t we monitor our network traffic so we can see things others can't. mitigating risks across your business. leaving you free to focus on what matters most. ♪
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by 2003, kevin cooper had lost all of his appeals for the 1983 murders of the ryen family and chris hughes. with his time running out and cooper still professing his innocence, the case came to the attention of the high-powered law firm, orrick, herrington & sutcliffe. norm hile was part of a team that fought death penalty cases on a pro bono basis. >> one thing i've learned in 25 years of representing people on death row, you're going to be fighting an uphill battle, and to have a client whose life is in the balance is a very heavy burden. >> what hile could not dispute was cooper's criminal history, his escape from prison and his proximity to the murders. >> i lived on the mean streets of pittsburgh when i was growing up. i became a car thief.
i landed in the california institution for men in 1983 because of a burglary conviction in los angeles. i was there a couple months. i was out walking around, and there was a hole in the fence, and i just ran. >> mr. cooper started wandering through farms and pastures, areas that were off of the roadways. and ultimately found his way to the lease house. >> when i got to the lease house, i called a couple ex-girlfriends, asked them to send me money. i watched tv, ate, tried to figure out what's next. but i did not murder those people. >> cooper said he'd already set out hitchhiking to mexico by the time the murders took place. he went into hiding when he became the most wanted man in california.
norm hile hired former fbi agent tom parker to look into cooper's case. >> when you're conducting an investigation, especially one as complex as this one, you essentially collect the evidence and let the evidence lead you to a suspect. what they did in this case was exactly the opposite. as word of the murders got out, the sheriff's department learned that kevin cooper had escaped, and that started what we refer to in law enforcement as tunnel vision. sheriff tidwell held a big press conference. they started with a suspect. and they didn't start collecting evidence to prove their theory. >> but if kevin cooper wasn't the killer, why did the hatchet sheath and the prison-issued tobacco found at larry lease's home link him to the murders? >> a couple of deputies went
over to the lease house, walked through it, and really didn't see anything suspicious. a day or two later, other deputies were asked to go search the lease house again. by then they knew a hatchet had been used in the murders. and they found a sheath to a hand ax laying right out in the middle of the floor in a position that the first deputies walking through the house could not have missed it. they would have had to been blind to miss that sheath. >> cooper also said that during his two days in the house, he smoked multiple cigarettes. >> but when police collected the evidence, they only collected one cigarette butt. and the rest of the cigarette butts somehow disappeared. later on, when they found the ryen station wagon in look beach, the first time it was inspected there were no cigarette butts.
the second time, they suddenly found two cigarette butts. clearly, they had been taken from the hideout house. >> and there was the blood evidence connecting cooper to the murders. this small speck labeled a-41. a-41 was examined by sheriff's department criminalist daniel gregonis. >> gregonis was a rookie at the time. proper procedure is to do blind testing. you test something and you don't know what the other person's blood is, and you're trying to see whether it's that person or not. but gregonis waited until he had kevin cooper's blood type. >> gregonis originally found a-41 did not match kevin cooper, but then he changed notes to show that it did. >> so, in fact, the testing actually showed that the blood drop was not from somebody with kevin's blood type. >> other evidence prosecutors claim linked cooper to the murders was a bloody footprint on the ryens' bed sheet, supposedly from a prison-issued sneaker.
>> kottmeier claimed these were only manufactured and sold to prisons. in fact, it was a style of shoe that was readily available, very common tennis shoes with a very common shoe print. >> the question now was whether these were innocent mistakes by investigators or something more. norm hile was about to learn that before they turned their attention to cooper, police had been given other solid leads, including from the sole survivor. >> 8-year-old josh ryen was able to communicate to staff at the hospital that the people who had attacked him and his family were three white men. in fact, a picture of kevin cooper was on television. and he looked up, and he said that's not the one who did it. whatever you're doing, plan well and enjoy life... ♪ or, as we say at unitedhealthcare insurance company,
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and the prosecution's claim that cooper had killed the ryens' in order to steal their station wagon. >> problem with this theory is that if somebody such as kevin cooper had wanted to make an escape, they missed the fact that there was cash, credit cards and other valuables left at the scene of the crimes. none of that was taken. if mr. cooper has walked away from the prison, obviously with no money, all of it was right there for him to take, and it was not touched. >> hile also disputed the prosecution's theory that the killer worked alone. the sheer number of wounds suffered by the victims, 140 in all, and the fact that doug ryen was an ex-marine with loaded guns in the bedroom suggested to hile that there had been more than one killer. for a time, san bernardino police apparently agreed with that conclusion.
>> the sheriff's department was told by two different bystanders that the night of the murders, around the time that the murders had occurred, they had seen a car that matched the description of the ryens' station wagon speeding down the road from the ryens' house and that in that car were white men. >> as it turned out, josh ryen, the sole survivor of the attacks, also reported seeing multiple intruders. deputy dale sharp interviewed josh ryen just hours after he was rushed to the hospital. >> it wasn't good. he had at least one hatchet wound to his head. and he had had his throat slit. >> josh was unable to speak, so deputy sharp devised another method of communication. >> he would squeeze my hand for
a yes and no squeeze for a no. >> i took his hand, and let him know that i was his friend the best i could. we talked about baseball. and got him comfortable with me. i would ask, do you remember anything? and i would get a hand squeeze. yes. can you remember anyone coming to your house? yes. we ended up with three mexican guys or maybe three white guys. i asked, were these three men there when things went crazy? and the answer was yes. >> based on this information, police released this bulletin two days after the murders. but by the time of the trial, josh ryen had changed his story. >> when josh was pressed to what he had seen, he is very specific.
he only saw one person that had very bushy, fuzzy hair. >> did you see what that shadow by the bathroom was doing? >> no. >> how many shadows did you see? >> just one. >> just one? >> deputy sharp saw nothing suspicious about josh ryen changing his story. >> victim memories can change, especially with an 8-year-old boy. you don't know what he's seen. you don't know what he remembers. >> have you seen those before? >> no. >> based on my 30-plus years in law enforcement, the initial comments of eyewitnesses are usually the most accurate. there's a very strong possibility that josh was coached. >> norman hile now felt he had enough evidence to successfully
fight for kevin's life. but as he prepared his appeals, yet another witness came forward, fully 20 years after the crime. >> i hear on the tv set that they're going to put kevin cooper to death, and i went, are you kidding me? >> on the night of the murders, christine slonaker was eating at the canyon corral, a local country/western bar just two miles from the ryens' home. >> as we were eating, in through the back swinging doors of the kitchen come these three guys. i noticed that one of them was covered in blood. not just little spots. this was like someone had taken a paint brush and went ffffwew. it was splattered. their feet were sticking to the floor, they were so inundated
with blood. at the time we didn't know about the murder, and we just thought, i don't know what they've been doing, slaughtering pigs or whatever, but we're out of here. >> slonaker never reported the incident, because she claimed a uniformed sheriff's deputy was at the bar that night, and she assumed he would follow up. in 2004, norm hile fought for a new trial for kevin cooper in front of u.s. district court judge marilyn huff in san diego. in his appeal, hile presented christine slonaker's testimony, and to his surprise, the state responded by inadvertently revealing a previously unknown piece of evidence provided by a woman named laurel open exemplar who lived near the canyon corral bar. >> here was a log that shows that laurel epler called in to
the sheriff's department the day after the murders, saying she had found a short-sleeved blue shirt that she thought had blood on it, on the road near the canyon corral bar. one of the bar employees testified that one of the men in the bar that night might have had on a blue shirt. the criminal bulletin showed that they were looking for three white men and one of them was wearing a blue shirt. >> hile would argue that the neighbor's eyewitness testimony along with the testimony of christine and josh ryen's original account all pointed to three suspects. and in the new documents released by the prosecution, hile was about to discover the name of one of the three suspects. and that man also happened to be a convicted murderer.
while he fought for a new trial for kevin cooper in front of judge marilyn huff, attorney norm hile discovered evidence that put a name to an alternate suspect. >> the night of the crimes, a woman named diana roper had seen her boyfriend, man named lee furrow drive up to their house in the wee hours of the morning.
lee furrow comes rushing into the house wearing coveralls splattered with what looks to be spots of blood. he changes clothes and turns around and leaves. there were other people in the house, and someone looked out the window and saw a white station wagon, matching the ryens' parked in the driveway with other individuals in that car. >> diana roper called the sheriff's department and she gave them the coveralls. the bloody coveralls that they recovered were booked into evidence. >> when diana roper later learned that a hatchet was used in the murders, she again called police and said that lee furrow's hatchet was missing from his tool belt. >> it would make sense that somebody like lee furrow would have killed the ryens. he was a convicted murderer. he had strangled to death a
young woman and thrown her body into a canal. >> but san bernardino police waited 11 months before questioning lee furrow. and when they did, they never asked him about his missing ax. they also seemed to accept furrow's word that he didn't own any overalls. tom parker thinks he knows why. >> the coveralls in fact had been destroyed. a deputy had taken them and thrown them in a dumpster behind the sheriff's department to get rid of them because it was unfounded that they had been connected to the case. of course there had never been any blood testing or whatever to come to that conclusion. >> hile now raised this destruction of evidence with judge huff. >> in a criminal prosecution, the prosecution is required to turn over to the defense any evidence that might be considered exonerating. it's a rule. if the prosecution doesn't do it, then they have committed what is called a brady violation, and the trial must be reversed, and a new trial given.
the tennis shoe situation, the bloody coveralls were all brady violation. and we put on evidence as to all of those. judge huff rejected it. >> kevin cooper was running out of time. so his defense team reached out to a new potential advocate. san francisco chronicle columnist debra saunders. >> as a supporter of the death penalty, i wouldn't want to see an innocent man executed, would i? so if there's a hint that somebody might not be guilty, i want to write about it. my editorial board at the san francisco chronicle wrote an editorial saying, gee, maybe kevin cooper is an innocent man. the defense attorneys laid out this case about how this innocent man had been unjustly convicted.
>> coopers defense said for years they'd been unsuccessful in dna testing which could exonerate cooper. >> he kept saying, i'm not guilty, do the testing. if it shows i'm guilty, you can execute me. i walked out of there thinking, whoa, they've really made a case i've got to think about. >> san bernardino's current district attorney michael ramos was handling cooper's appeals. >> we felt that the ongoing request by defense counsel in this case was just another delay tactic. there was no evidence at all that anybody but kevin cooper committed these horrendous murders, none. >> but in the early 2000s, new legislation in california would grant kevin cooper the right to dna testing. >> all these years that my case
was in the appeals courts, i never got a fair hearing, i would always get denied for one reason or the next. so i felt very bad. very discouraged until dna testing came along, and i had a shot. >> the state would perform dna tests on blood sample a-41, taken from the ryens' hallway and blood on the tan shirt thought to have been thrown from their stolen station wagon. the results would determine whether kevin cooper lived or died. when you're not confident your company's data is secure, the possibility of a breach can quickly become the only thing you think about. that's where at&t can help. at at&t we monitor our network traffic so we can see things others can't. mitigating risks across your business. leaving you free to focus on what matters most.
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♪ newly available dna testing was being conducted on the evidence from the ryen murders. preliminary results showed that the blood from the ryens' hallway and on the tan t-shirt both came from the same person. that dna profile was then compared to kevin cooper's. >> the analysis regarding this was 100%. beyond a shadow of a doubt. kevin cooper was in that house and bled at that crime scene. it really verified what you knew
all along, that kevin cooper committed these horrendous murders. >> only one out of 300 billion people could have matched a-41. you could go to galaxies far beyond the stars and still not find a match for a-41 that cooper supplies. >> once the dna test put kevin cooper in the home he said he never went into and on a t-shirt with doug ryen's blood on it, that was it for him. >> debra saunders, once convinced of cooper's innocence now published scathing reports in the san francisco chronicle about kevin cooper's guilt, the dna results and this new press attention had backfired on cooper's defense. >> to kevin cooper's shock and the defense's shock, the testing came back saying that there was
kevin's dna on a-41. >> but for hile, the dna results raised a red flag. >> back in 1983, the lab technician, daniel gregonis he testified that he had consumed a-41 during his testing. now gregonis was asked to make sure that a-41 still existed. we have a photograph of the envelope that shows the date that he took it out and when he resealed it. so we know that he had a-41 on his person for 24 hours before he returned it. he'd also had nearby, in the lab, the vial of kevin cooper's blood that was taken from him when he was arrested. >> contrary to gregonis' original testimony, the state now reported there was enough of a-41 for additional dna testing. results from the tan t-shirt
also changed drastically. at the original trial, the t-shirt was only shown to have doug ryen's blood on it. >> when the t-shirt was tested at this time, there was additional blood located on the upper part of the t-shirt, across the chest that had not been noticed or photographed or even reported previous to this time. >> cooper's defense argued that the new blood on the t-shirt and the newly discovered blood found on a-41 could only have come from one place, the vial of cooper's blood that the lab technician daniel gregonis had access to. the defense would strengthen that assertion by taking the vial of cooper's blood to an independent lab for analysis. >> it was discovered that the vial contained two different blood types and two different dna types indicating that additional blood from another person had been poured into cooper's vial.
the likelihood is that they poured somebody else's blood into it after they poured blood on to a-41 and the t-shirt. >> much like when teenagers drink their parents' alcohol, in order to conceal that, they have to fill that bottle back up with something else. >> cooper and his team eventually brought their claims of blood tampering to judge marilyn huff, requesting that daniel gregonis be called to testify. but, as in previous petitions, judge huff denied all of their requests. after more than 20 years on death row and numerous failed appeals, the courts now set kevin cooper's execution date for february 10, 2004. by this time, news of the controversy surrounding kevin's case had become widespread. >> people care to start seeing
the evidence and learning about the evidence, but they decided they were not going to let these people murder me without exposing the truth. >> no fact will change kevin cooper's groupies. they're being spoon-fed this story that doesn't hold up, and the kevin cooper legal team knew how to play that. >> you have those opposed to the death penalty saying this execution should be stayed. he's an innocent man. >> ramos said he wants to bring closure to the victims' families. he doesn't want to bring them truth. he wants to bring them closure, which is two different things. >> but while the court of public opinion may have turned in kevin's favor, his defense team was running out of options. >> we were working against the clock. we had to file up to the california supreme court saying that kevin had been denied his rights and that the prosecution
had been improper. >> cooper's arguments hinged on accusations of planted evidence and alternate suspects who were never pursued. cooper also appealed to governor schwarzenegger for clemency. >> for the clemency petition, a number of the jurors came forward and said they were very uncomfortable, now that they had learned about all the things that had surfaced since the trial. peggy ryen's sister even wrote a letter to the governor saying she believed kevin was not the killer and that they should not execute him. >> ten days before the execution, governor schwarzenegger made his decision. >> arnold schwarzenegger has made his first live or die decision as california governor. he rejected pleas to spare the life of a convicted killer. >> he said that kevin was clearly guilty and should be executed. a few days before the execution date, the california supreme
court denied our request for a stay of the execution and for the chance to file further appeals in kevin's case. >> san quentin guards now escorted kevin cooper to a new cell adjacent to the death chamber. cooper was about to become a dead man walking. we stop arthritis pain, so you don't have to stop. tylenol® 8hr arthritis pain has two layers of pain relief. the first is fast. the second lasts all day. we give you your day back. what you do with it is up to you. tylenol®.
♪ just hours before his midnight execution on february 10, 2004, kevin cooper was strip searched and dressed for the death chamber. but cooper steadfastly refused to assist in his own execution. defiantly, he had begun a hunger strike the week before. as midnight approached, a crowd of several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the prison walls. >> we say hell no to death row. >> lawyers were going to attend. the family members were going to attend the execution. finally the family was going to have justice. >> with just hours to go, a frenzied back and forth was erupting in the courts. >> a three-judge panel of the ninth court of appeals issued an opinion denying a stay of the execution.
a few hours later, a judge of the ninth circuit disagreed with the three-judge panel, and the ninth circuit en banc, which meant with an 11-judge panel issued a ruling staying his execution. >> though the en banc ruling happens only 1% of the time, they reversed the earlier decision and gave kevin cooper a stay. but the decision didn't set well with attorney general. >> the attorney general immediately filed a request of the supreme court of the united states to reverse that stay. >> at 8:15 p.m., as kevin cooper waited for news about his impending execution, a phone range in the death chamber. >> my lawyers told me that the united states supreme court in a unanimous decision said that i would not be murdered that night. i began to feel life come back
into my body, because i honestly thought i was a dead man. >> finding out four hours before your client is going to be executed that he's not going to be executed is a tremendous sense of exhilaration. but it's not over. kevin was not off death row. >> two years after kevin cooper's brush with death, a judge imposed a moratorium on the use of lethal injection in california. no one has been executed in the state since 2006. meanwhile, kevin cooper continues to declare his innocence and though his appeals have been denied, in 2009, a judge from the ninth circuit court wrote a scathing indictment of the prosecution of the case.
judge william fletcher wrote cooper is probably innocent of the crimes for which the state of california is about to execute him. if he is innocent, the real killers may have escaped. they may kill again. they may have already done so. despite conflicting opinions about cooper's guilt, if and when california resumes executions, kevin cooper will be returned to the death chamber. >> if he were to be executed, i would still want to prove his innocence, because our system often convicts innocent people, and when you have the ultimate punishment, you've got to get another system. >> we save the death penalty for the worst of the worst. these people on death row, some of them, i call them monsters. everybody talks about the death row inmates and their rights, but people forget about the victims and their families and their rights.
>> this is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. >> the defense attorneys like to say, what was his motive? he could have just taken their car and gone. that's true, but he didn't. he killed this family. he deserves the death penalty. >> i hope you die! >> 1985 i was escorted to death row in san quentin prison. and it's like i went to hell. but i am an innocent man. i did not murder anyone. i hope people learn from this story that you have to stand up and fight this rotten-ass system because it is rotten. it is rotten to the core. >> all of the potential inaccuracies, the potential miscarriages of justice, i can't correct. i can only tell you that personally, i was involved in
this case from the very beginning. and personally, believe that kevin cooper should die. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com on this episode of death row stories, a triple murder, execution style. >> they shot them like they were nothing. >> and the crime is caught on tape. >> most significant piece of evidence i've ever seen in a case. >> the clear images of guilt. >> the evidence establishes that he committed the crime. >> there's your guy. it's a slam dunk for the prosecution. >> only deepens the mystery. >> you're going to kill somebody. it's not even a sure conviction. >> there's no doubt in my mind that he's innocent. >> there's a body on the water. >> he was butchered and murdered. >> many people proclaim their innocence.