Fact Check: Yes, Kamala Harris Opposed DNA Evidence for Death Row Inmate

Kamala Harris (Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty)
Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty

CLAIM: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) “blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so.”

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) accused fellow Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris of being a cruel prosecutor, putting “over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations” and then laughing about having smoked marijuana herself.

Gabbard then added: “She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so.”

That is largely true, as the Sacramento Bee noted (original links):

In February, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered new DNA testing in the 1983 murder case of Kevin Cooper. Cooper came within hours of execution in 2004 after being charged with the murders of an adult couple and two children. Harris opposed the testing when she was the state’s attorney general.

She has since said she supports DNA testing and encouraged Newsom to approve Cooper’s clemency request. She did not offer specifics on why she did not approve the testing during her tenure.

In response to a request for comment, Harris’s campaign pointed to a past statement where the senator called a New York Times columnist last year, telling him, “I feel awful about this.”

Harris later reversed her position and supported the DNA testing, the San Francisco Chronicle noted at the time.

The inmate, Kevin Cooper, has not been freed, as the DNA testing is still continuing and it is not yet clear whether he is innocent, though many believe him to be.

The Bee also noted that another claim against Harris — this time, by former vice president Joe Biden — that a federal judge freed 1,000 inmates after it discovered that a San Francisco crime lab had misused evidence, and that then-District Attorney Harris had failed to reveal that the evidence had possibly been tainted.

That, too, was true.

The Washington Post recalled earlier this year: “[I]t was revealed in March 2010 that Harris and her staff had not informed defense lawyers that evidence from the police-run crime lab might have been tainted. A judge ruled in May 2010 that Harris had failed to inform defendants as required by law. Harris said … she took responsibility and made ‘no excuses’ for the failure.”

Harris is now running on a platform that includes criminal justice reform and she says she opposes the death penalty.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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