Virginia May Conduct DNA Testing to Determine if Innocent Man Was Executed in 1992
By KRISTEN GELINEAU Associated Press Writer
RICHMOND, Va. Jan 2, 2006 — With less than two weeks left in Gov. Mark R. Warner’s term, time is running out for him to arrange DNA testing that could determine whether Virginia sent an innocent man to the electric chair in 1992.
If the tests show Roger Keith Coleman did not rape and murder his sister-in-law in 1981, it will mark the first time in the United States an executed person has been scientifically proved innocent, say death penalty opponents, who are keenly aware that such a result could have a powerful effect on public opinion.
“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.
A Gallup poll in October found that 64 percent of Americans support the death penalty. That is the lowest level in 27 years, down from a high of 80 percent in 1994.
Warner a potential Democratic presidential contender for 2008 hopes to complete 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 coal mining town of Grundy.
The case drew international attention as the well-spoken Coleman pleaded his case on talk shows and in magazines and newspapers. Time magazine featured the coal miner on its cover. Pope John Paul II tried to block the execution. Then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s office was flooded with thousands of calls and letters of protest from around the world.
Coleman’s attorneys argued that he did not 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. Coleman was executed on May 20, 1992.
“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.”
There are a few folks I’ve already heard from that say that they hope that if he’s found innocent, they will do away with the death penalty altogether. What do you think?