California Gov. Brown orders new DNA testing in 35-year-old murders

A California inmate charged in a decades-old murder case could get a second chance after Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday ordered new DNA tests related to the killings.

Kevin Cooper has argued that he was framed for the 1983 Chino Hills hatchet and knife killings of four people.

Brown ordered a T-shirt, towel, a sheath and a hatchet handle discovered near the scene to be tested. Brown also appointed a retired Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to serve as a special master overseeing the case.

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Cooper was convicted of killing Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and 11-year-old neighbor Christopher Hughes in 1985. Prosecutors said Cooper's claims of innocence have been disproven multiple times, including by prior DNA testing, but Cooper and his attorney argued evidence against him was planted.

Now they will have an opportunity to prove their case.

"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.

The purpose of the new testing, he wrote, would be to determine whether another suspect's DNA or the DNA of any other identifiable suspect is on the items. If the tests reveal no new DNA or DNA that cannot be traced to a person, "this matter should be closed," Brown wrote.

Following the announcement of the order, Kim Kardashian, a vocal advocate for criminal justice reform, tweeted in support, labeling it "such amazing news."

Brown issued his Christmas Eve order alongside 143 pardons and 131 commutations. They are expected to be his last clemency actions as governor, but he has until he leaves office Jan. 7 to act.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.