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Old 01-02-2006, 07:44 PM   #1
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Va. Gov. Considers DNA Testing For Executed Man

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Va. Gov. Considers DNA Testing For Executed Man
Coleman Was Put To Death In 1992

POSTED: 2:05 pm EST January 2, 2006

RICHMOND, Va. -- With less than two weeks left of his term, time is running out for Gov. Mark R. Warner to decide whether to order DNA testing in a nearly quarter-century-old murder case -- a move that could determine if Virginia executed an innocent man in 1992.

If the tests show Roger Keith Coleman did not rape and murder his sister-in-law in 1981, it would mark the first time in the United States an executed person is scientifically proven innocent, say death penalty opponents, who are keenly aware that such a result could sway public opinion their way.

"I think it would be the final straw for a lot of people who are on the fence on the death penalty," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

An October Gallup poll shows 64 percent of Americans still support the death penalty. But that's the lowest level in 27 years, down from a high of 80 percent in 1994.

Warner -- a rumored Democratic presidential contender for 2008 -- hopes to finalize negotiations over how the test would be conducted before his term ends Jan. 14, said spokesman Kevin Hall.

Coleman was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of 19-year-old Wanda McCoy, his wife's sister, who was found raped, stabbed and nearly beheaded in her home in the southwestern Virginia coal-mining town of Grundy.

The case drew international attention as the well-spoken and media-savvy Coleman pleaded his case on talk shows, in magazines and newspapers. Time Magazine featured the coal miner on its cover. Pope John Paul II intervened to try and block the execution. Then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's office was flooded with thousands of phone calls and letters of protest from around the world.

Coleman's attorneys argued he didn't have time to commit the crime, that tests showed semen from two men was found inside McCoy and that another man bragged about murdering her.

Despite the controversy, Coleman was executed on May 20, 1992, maintaining his innocence until the end.

"An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight," the 33-year-old said moments before he was electrocuted. "When my innocence is proven, I hope America will realize the injustice of the death penalty as all other civilized countries have."

DNA tests in 1990 placed Coleman within 2 percent of the population of those who could have produced the semen at the crime scene. Additional blood typing narrowed Coleman to within 0.2 percent of possible perpetrators. His lawyers said the expert who conducted the test -- whom they had hired -- misinterpreted the results.

Four newspapers and Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey organization that investigated Coleman's case and became convinced of his innocence, sought a court order to have the evidence retested. After the Virginia Supreme Court declined to order the testing in 2002, Centurion Ministries asked Warner to intervene.

Warner's decision has been held up in part because the sample is not in the state's possession, Hall said. The evidence is being stored in a Richmond, Calif., lab by the forensic scientist who conducted the initial DNA tests.

Edward Blake, who has kept the sample frozen since 1990, has balked at returning the evidence to Virginia, arguing that testing should be conducted at his lab. He has said that Virginia has a vested interest in tests that would either confirm Coleman's guilt or be inconclusive, since a result showing Coleman was innocent could tarnish the state's criminal justice system.

Blake has also argued that transporting the fragile evidence -- about one-fifth of a drop of sperm -- could destroy it.

Warner, Blake and Centurion Ministries have been working on a negotiated process in which an independent lab would take possession of the sample and test it, Hall said.

"This is an issue that a lot of people have spent a lot of time working on and it certainly is the governor's desire that an acceptable procedure be hammered out before we leave office," Hall said.

If the parties can't come to an agreement before Warner leaves, the issue will fall to Democratic Gov.-elect Tim Kaine, who supports DNA retesting in the case, said Delacey Skinner, a Kaine spokeswoman.

Tom Scott, a Grundy attorney who helped prosecute the case, said he has no objection to retesting the DNA, and is confident doing so would confirm Coleman's guilt -- provided the sample has been properly preserved and not tampered with.

"If the integrity of the sample has been violated in some way, we're gonna have an inconclusive result which isn't going to settle anything," he said.

Scott said a mountain of evidence points to Coleman as the killer: There was no sign of forced entry at McCoy's house, leading investigators to believe she knew her attacker; Coleman was previously convicted of the attempted rape of a teacher and was charged with exposing himself to a librarian two months before the murder; a pubic hair found on McCoy's body was consistent with Coleman's hair; and the original DNA tests placed him within a tiny fraction of the population who could have left semen at the scene.

Coleman also failed a lie detector test hours before his execution.

"When you add all of this evidence together, it's a connect-the-dots case," he said. "In my mind, there just wasn't any question about it."

The push to retest the evidence in Coleman's case is more about advancing an anti-death penalty agenda than trying to determine if an innocent man was executed, said Dianne Clements, president of the Houston-based victim advocacy group Justice for All.

Further, she said, new testing is unnecessary and could open up the nation's justice system to a flood of requests by inmates seeking DNA retesting in their cases.

"It's been tested before," Clements said. "At what point is it over?"

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed
Let the debate on the death penalty begin...
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Old 01-02-2006, 07:52 PM   #2
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What does he hope to accomplish except shifting attention from other issues? If there is a real, valid principle, why not do DNA testing for all executed convicts?
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Old 01-02-2006, 07:54 PM   #3
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Capital Punishment is disgusting. And hypocritical. And simple-minded. And effectless.
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Old 01-02-2006, 07:56 PM   #4
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Without getting into the death penalty aspect of it at all, I don't understand why so often victims' families and victim advocacy groups are against such testing. I would think the families (and the groups) would want to know for sure the right person was caught. If it turns out it was the wrong guy...well, the person who committed the crime is still out there.

And call me cynical, but I can understand why a prosecutor wouldn't want a retesting of evidence -- if the person is found innocent the prosecutor isn't going to look very good.
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Old 01-02-2006, 07:58 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by nbcrusader
If there is a real, valid principle, why not do DNA testing for all executed convicts?

I think that's a good idea.
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Old 01-02-2006, 08:00 PM   #6
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Hasn't Warner been "considering" this an awful long time?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...2004Dec28.html
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Old 01-05-2006, 09:40 PM   #7
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New development:

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DNA Testing Ordered on Executed Man

By Maria Glod and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 5, 2006; 6:48 PM



Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) has ordered DNA testing that could prove the guilt or innocence of a man executed in 1992, marking the first time a governor has asked for genetic testing of someone already put to death.

The testing, begun last month, comes in the case of Roger Keith Coleman, a convicted killer whose proclamations of innocence -- including on the night of his execution -- sparked concern nationwide over whether the wrong man died in Virginia's electric chair.

"We have found that the latest DNA technology -- in certain instances where the other facts of a case support it -- has provided a definitive result not available at the time of trial or post-conviction testing," Warner said in a statement.

"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. I believe we must always follow the available facts to a more complete picture of guilt or innocence. My prayers are with the family of Wanda McCoy as we take this extraordinary step."

Coleman was convicted of killing McCoy.

The tests, on vials of evidence that have been preserved for years at a California laboratory, are being conducted at Ontario's Centre of Forensic Sciences (CFS) lab in Toronto, according to the governor's office. Results could be announced before Warner leaves office next week.

If Coleman is exonerated, it would mark the first time in the United States that the innocence of an executed person has been proven through genetic tests.

Ira Robbins, an American University criminal law professor, said if Coleman is proven innocent it would push many Americans who are unsure about capital punishment to oppose it. But even if the tests prove Coleman was a killer, he said, it could spark testing of more old cases nationwide.

"Lets assume it comes back that he was proved innocent. Here is the case that the death penalty opponents have been looking for for a long time -- that we have executed an innocent person," Robbins said. "It could be the biggest turning point in death penalty abolition."

Coleman, a coal miner from Grundy a small mountain town in southwest Virginia, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 brutal rape and stabbing of his sister-in-law, 19-year-old Wanda McCoy. But questions about his guilt have lingered for decades.

In recent years, state officials and judges, including the Virginia Supreme Court, have refused requests by a charity that investigates wrongful convictions and several media organizations to allow modern testing of evidence gathered at the crime scene.

In 2001, a lawyer with the Virginia attorney general's office told a circuit judge that "Continual reexamination of concluded cases brings about perpetual uncertainty . . . and disparages the entire criminal justice system."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company
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Old 01-12-2006, 05:04 PM   #8
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http://www.cnn.com/2006/LAW/01/12/dn....ap/index.html

RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) -- New DNA tests confirmed the guilt of a man who went to his death in Virginia's electric chair in 1992 proclaiming his innocence, the governor said Thursday.

The case had been closely watched by both sides in the death penalty debate because no executed convict in the United States has ever been exonerated by scientific testing.

The tests, ordered by Gov. Mark R. Warner earlier this month, prove Roger Keith Coleman was guilty of the 1981 rape and murder of his sister-in-law, Warner said.
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Old 01-12-2006, 05:26 PM   #9
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Interesting. So much for the theory I've read about that innocent people never stop proclaiming their innocence. I guess liars never stop lying sometimes, too.
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Old 01-12-2006, 05:31 PM   #10
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This is good news.

Coleman was not innocent.


but, without a doubt

many innocent men have been executed.
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Old 01-12-2006, 05:32 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by joyfulgirl
I guess liars never stop lying sometimes, too.
Why must you always make this about the Administration?
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Old 01-13-2006, 08:31 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by deep
This is good news.

Coleman was not innocent.


but, without a doubt

many innocent men have been executed.
That is true -- we know that mistakes are possible, even when the highest standards are applied.

I am a little confused coz I could not understand why they made the test on a man executed more that 10 years ago, but I suppose there was a reason.

Technology and medecine progress have helped solve a lot of criminal cases.

But, independently if one person is guilty or innocent, I stay firmly against death penalty.
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