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DNA fails to clear Calif. man of killings

Death-row inmate has had support from celebrities

SAN DIEGO -- New DNA tests sought by a death row inmate who won a stay of execution just eight hours before he was due to die failed to exonerate him of the 1983 murders of four people, a prosecutor said.

DNA tests indicated that hairs found on three of Kevin Cooper's victims were likely their own, Deputy Attorney General Holly Wilkens said.

The DNA report by Terry Melton, a scientist hired by the defense, was submitted Friday to US District Judge Marilyn Huff, who ordered the tests.

A defense attorney left the courtroom without talking to reporters.

Cooper, who has maintained his innocence through nearly 20 years of appeals, has won support from such celebrities as Denzel Washington and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Cooper was sentenced to die in 1985 for killing Douglas and Peggy Ryen; their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica; and 11-year-old friend Christopher Hughes, who was sleeping over at the Ryens' home. Eight-year-old Joshua Ryen's throat was slashed, but he survived.

Cooper, who is black, had escaped from a nearby prison days before the killing. Defense attorneys have contended that three white men -- who were seen in a local bar but never identified -- committed the murders and that police framed Cooper.

He was eight hours away from being executed in February when the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted him a stay and ordered the district court to determine if additional testing of evidence was warranted.

Ten hairs were found clutched in Jessica Ryen's hand, two were in Doug Ryen's hand, and one was on Christopher Hughes's arm.

Melton's tests on mitochondrial DNA -- a molecule that is much smaller than the more familiar nuclear DNA that determines a person's genetic makeup -- found that two hairs were from a dog.

The remaining 11 hairs likely belonged to the victims, Wilkens said.

However, mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited from the mother, cannot specifically identify an individual.

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