Did Virginia Execute an Innocent Man in Roger Keith Coleman?
CNN.com reported last week on the developments in the case of Roger Keith Coleman. Coleman was executed by the State of Virginia in 1992 after being convicted for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Wanda McCoy. As Inside Out Documentaries indicates:
McCoy was raped, stabbed, and her throat slashed so violently that she was practically decapitated. Police quickly focused on her brother-in-law, Roger Keith Coleman, a white coal miner who'd been jailed once for attempted rape. Coleman was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. For 10 years, along with a network of lawyers and supporters, Coleman insisted he was innocent; but by the spring of 1992 - as the rains swelled the waters of Slate Creek - Coleman's legal remedies were exhausted and he was executed. Jim McCloskey fought for years to save his life, and is still trying to clear his name. "I promised Roger Coleman the night he was executed [that] I would do all within my power to prove that he was innocent," says McCloskey. "Those were my last words to a dying man."
When Coleman was tried, his attorneys argued that there were flaws in the State's case, including problems with the timeline and questions about whether Coleman had sufficient time to commit the crime, and evidence indicating that semen from two men was found inside the victim and another man had bragged about murdering her. Nonetheless, Coleman was convicted and sentenced to death. A key piece of the evidence used to convict Coleman was DNA testing. The DNA tests conducted in 1990 placed Coleman within the 2 percent of the population who could have produced the semen at the crime scene, and additional blood typing placed Coleman within a group consisting of only 0.2 percent of the population. Coleman's attorneys, however, argued that the test results had been misinterpreted.
Now there has been an effort to get the remaining DNA evidence from the crime scene retested. Virginia's governor, Mark Warner, was petitioned two years ago to order retesting of the remaining DNA evidence. Yesterday, Warner ordered the retesting. Warner, after waiting for two years to rule on the request, said,
"This is an extraordinarily unique circumstance, where technology has advanced significantly and can be applied in the case of someone who consistently maintained his innocence until execution," said Warner, a Democrat who leaves office Jan. 14.
Perhaps now the truth or falsity of Coleman's final words will be established:
“An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight. When my innocence is proven, I hope Americans will realize the injustice of the death penalty as all other civilized countries have.”
- Roger Coleman’s last words before he was executed by the state of Virginia May 20, 1992
For more information on this story:
Inside Out Documentaries: Roger Coleman
Virginians Against the Death Penalty: May God Have Mercy (Book on the Coleman case)
Talkleft ("Gov. Warner Orders DNA Test for Executed Man" -- January 5, 2006)
Legal Reader ("Did Virginia Execute an Innocent Man?" -- January 3, 2006)
"Remember Cory Maye? Update." (Kierkegaard Lives -- January 4, 2006)