Thursday, January 05, 2006

End of an error? DNA test ordered to determine if innocent man was executed

As reported in the Washington Post tonight, Virginia Governor Mark Warner has ordered DNA testing in the case of Roger K. Coleman, who was executed in 1992 for the 1981 rape and murder of Coleman's sister-in-law. Coleman steadfastly maintained his innocence up until his execution in the Virginia electric chair.

If the DNA test proves Coleman's innocence, this could be a watershed moment in the dubious history of the death penalty in the United States. While it is believed that many innocent people have been executed in the past, this may be the first chance to prove it. And if more Americans don't begin to abandon their support for the death penalty as a result, then I will be very surprised, not to mention disappointed.

The mere thought of convicting an innocent person is bad enough. But to carry out an execution of an innocent person is something that should be revolting to every American.

We may find out the answer in a week or so, if the testing goes as planned. I'll be interested to see how the information gets released once the DNA results are determined. If the DNA test proves negative, it will be a major news story from coast to coast and, perhaps, around the world.

The death penalty should never be assessed if there's even the slightest possibility that the convicted person may be innocent. Americans who support the death penalty need to realize that. And there's no time like the present!

Maybe the beginning of the end to the death penalty in this country is just around the corner. For all of our sakes, I hope so. Our status as a civilized society will have taken a giant leap forward as a result. At least until the next Bush attack on the Constitution, that is...but I digress...


At 12:34 PM, Blogger Cyril Sneer said...

This case _was_ resolved in court between the time of the original trial in 1981 and many appeals leading to Coleman’s 1992 execution. Despite claims that they were “denied” the opportunity to appeal by the 21 day rule, Coleman’s attorneys *did* have a chance to show all of their evidence to federal judge Glen Williams a few weeks prior to their client’s execution.

However, their own DNA analyst’s findings showed that Coleman’s sperm genotype and blood type combined (both found at the scene) put him in a subcategory of 2/10th of 1 percent of the population that could have murdered Wanda McCoy.

The federal judge ruled that Coleman did not “have a colorable shade of innocence,” and the “evidence now makes the case against him even stronger”

Their “alternative suspect” - a neighbor of McCoy, did not have the same blood type. After Coleman’s execution, said neighbor sued Coleman’s lawyer, Centurion Ministries and a Virginia death penalty abolitionist for libel - winning a sizeable out of court settlement in 1994.

There was no break-in at the McCoy house that night. Wanda would have opened the door at night to only three people - her husband, her father and her brother in law Roger Coleman. The first two had alibis, Coleman had about a 45 minute window in which he couldn’t explain his whereabouts.

Additionally, Coleman had been convicted of a 1977 attack on a local woman in which he tried to force the woman into a rape at gunpoint. Fortunately, she escaped. Wanda McCoy was not so fortunate.

The right man was identified, arrested, convicted and executed for this terrible crime.

At 5:20 PM, Blogger DrewL said...

Thanks for the background. I read some of that in another article a few days ago. But I still don't believe that it justifies an execution. I used to support the death penalty, even after I stopped supporting the Republican Party about 15 years ago. But I've come to believe that the death penalty is nothing more than glorified revenge, which isn't something that we need to be engaging in. Try, convict and incarcerate...fine. But ending that person's life, in spite of the probably brutish nature of the original crime, doesn't do it for me.


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