Pat O’Connor is a true crime journalist of note. He has been the editor and publisher of Crime Magazine since its inception in 1998. He is the author of The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, which was published by The Chicago Review Press in 2008. That book is a stunning piece of investigative journalism that looks into the case of prison celebrity Abu-Jamal, who recently got his death penalty sentence overturned, due in no small part of O’Connor’s efforts. His latest book Scapegoat from Strategic Media Books chronicles another injustice. This time he looks at the death penalty sentence of Kevin Cooper, who O’Connor claims is innocent of the horrific murders he is sentenced to death for. A fascinating read and a fascinating writer. But don’t let us tell it, let him.
How did the writing of the book Scapecoat come about?
During the fall of 2008, I was in the San Francisco Bay Area on a book tour for The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal. During the tour, supporters of Kevin Cooper approached me at various presentations and asked me to consider writing a book on Kevin’s case.
What does the story focus on?
The book focuses on how the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office framed Kevin Cooper for the brutal murders of a Chino Hills family and a young houseguest in 1983.
What drew your interest to write this story?
When I decided to begin researching Kevin’s case early in 2009, I had no pre-conceived notions about his guilt or innocence. Each case is different, radically so. My research — over 8,000 pages of trial transcripts, police reports, witness interviews, appeal transcripts, and extensive interviews with Kevin’s public defender and the lead prosecutor at this trial as well as with his appeal attorneys and Kevin himself — convinced me that Kevin had been made a scapegoat for these horrific murders. What I found was that the Sheriff’s Department, once it named Kevin as the lone perpetrator, discarded information that pointed clearly at three white men as the assailants, destroyed evidence that exculpated Cooper, and planted or fabricated evidence that implicated him. My goal in writing this book was to bring to light the raw injustice Cooper had been subjected to by detailing the abuses in those three areas.
Tell us about yourself and your writing?
I began my journalism career as a reporter and then a bureau manager for United Press International. I was the editor of Cincinnati Magazine, the associate editor of TV Guide, and the editor and publisher of The Kansas City New Times, an alternative newspaper. Since late 1998, I’ve been the editor of www.crimemagazine.com. Crime Magazine covers all aspects of true crime but I’m personally most engaged by our coverage of innocence cases. In 2008, Lawrence Hill Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press, published my first book, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
How did you hook up with Strategic Media books?
During the last few years, Crime Magazine has published a number of book excerpts written by Ron Chepesiuk. As I was nearing completion of Scapegoat, Ron told me he had formed a new publishing venture, Strategic Media Books that would be a good fit for the book I was writing.
Tell us about Crime Magazine and what stories you have covered with it?
J.J. Maloney and I launched Crime Magazine in November of 1998. J.J. and I had worked together at The Kansas City New Times. The whole topic of crime fascinated J.J. and there weren’t any comprehensive crime sites on the Internet back then. The site gave him a platform to write about justice issues, gun control, the death penalty, government corruption as well as serial killers, the Mafia, kidnappers, and famous heists and trials. Until he died at the end of 1999, I only edited copy for the site. Since then I have attempted to keep the site going in his memory. Over the years it has evolved in ways we never imagined. Well over 4 million unique visitors have visited the site and I think I can say this without fear of contraction that Crime Magazine is the most intelligent and definitive site for crime reporting on the Internet.
Why did you start Crime Magazine?
Of all the hundreds of articles on Crime Magazine, the story on the Jon Benet Ramsey case that J.J. and I wrote together remains the No. 1 feature on the site. The Death of Princess Di by Marilyn Z. Tomlins, the story ofAlcatrazby Michael Esslinger and Frank Sinatra’s ties to the Mob by J.D. Chandler have been immensely popular.
What started your interest in true crime writing?
In writing about wrongful convictions as I have over the last 12 years the thing that most stands out to me is that it takes an entirely corrupt arm of law enforcement — be it city cops, sheriff’s deputies or ATF agents — to frame an innocent person. The notion that it is just a few rotten apples is bogus. In Kevin Cooper’s case it took a corrupt sheriff’s department, a corrupt crime lab, a corrupt medical examiner and a district attorney’s office willing to convict on trumped up charges to pin the Chino Hills murders on him. What is most amazing to me that even when Kevin and Mumia Abu-Jamal had winning constitutional claims presented at the appeal level that they were still denied relief. As Clarence Darrow said over 100 years ago about the so-called “justice system” in the United States, “We have no system for doing justice, not the slightest in the world.” He said if the courts were organized to promote justice “the people would elect somebody to defend all these criminals, somebody as smart as the prosecutor — and give him as many detectives and as many assistants to help, and pay as much money to defend you.”
Scapecoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper by J. Patrick O’Connor, Strategic Media Books.
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