But then-Gov. Douglas Wilder said he found no evidence Coleman was not guilty. He let the execution proceed after Coleman failed a last-minute lie-detector test. Wilder's office received more than 13, messages about the case, more than 99 percent urging clemency. In , four newspapers, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, went to court seeking the testing of the material in Blake's lab.
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They argued that the truth, if available, should be known. But the courts turned down the request. McCloskey, who was also seeking testing, then asked Warner to order it. Negotiations among the state, Centurion Ministries and Blake led to an agreement last month. The testing was done by an independent lab with no ties to any of the parties: Ontario's Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto.
McCloskey took it on the chin yesterday. He said, "We, who seek the truth, must live or die by the sword of DNA. In my view, he had no motive, means or opportunity to do this crime. I now know that I was wrong. Indeed, this is a bitter pill to swallow," he said. Don Hill, one of the jurors in the case, said yesterday that the findings came as no surprise to him and that he hopes the second-guessing of the jury will now stop. Another juror, June C. Dotson of Grundy, said she felt vindicated, but she really hasn't thought about the case.
I was never worried," she said.
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Mickey McGlothlin, the former Buchanan County commonwealth's attorney who prosecuted Coleman, said, "I would have been surprised if the results came out any other way. And really, look at how successful he was with those final words at causing trouble for the criminal justice system long after his death.
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Why shouldn't he lie then? A sudden confession wasn't going to do him any good, except on potential moral grounds, and someone who raped and murdered a woman just to serve as her pallbearer doesn't seem terribly interested in morality to me. Some more reading for those interested in this topic Watching death penalty foes - who worry that the state might execute an innocent man - praying that the c ommonwealth of Virginia had done just that.
Alas, DNA testing showed otherwise. On Thursday afternoon, we all learned the truth: Roger Keith Coleman, who died in the electric chair in , was indeed a murderous pervert. The Virginia justice system worked. My condolences to all who hoped it hadn't. I hesitate to point this out, but the profound disappointment expressed by some in the anti-capital-punishment camp was rather, ah, what's the right word Take your pick. Truth is, they didn't really care about Coleman. What they wanted was a martyr.
He was the best they could find. A caveat: I respect those who oppose capital punishment on moral grounds. My church condemns the practice. What I find disturbing is the callous indifference these folks frequently display toward the victims of crimes and their willingness to believe the drivel about innocence that echoes along death row.
Coleman's naive admirers really believed he was not guilty of the hideous killing in Grundy. After all, the condemned man proclaimed his innocence in the death chamber. Apparently that meant he had to be telling the truth.
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So they stomped their feet about this miscarriage of justice for 13 years , through several gubernatorial administrations, until Gov. Mark Warner relented and ordered sophisticated new testing of old evidence. Once the results were in, even Coleman's best friends had to admit that he had indeed raped and murdered his year-old sister-in-law, Wanda McCoy. An account in Friday's Pilot reminded us that he "nearly beheaded" her.
Coleman's supporters were devastated. The leader of a group that had pushed for the DNA testing told reporters that he had been sure Coleman was innocent, because he'd had no "motive" for the crime.
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What exactly is a motive for rape? All indications are that Roger Keith Coleman was a sex offender who was getting more and more aggressive. He'd attempted rape. He'd been charged with exposing himself. Finally, there was the McCoy atrocity. Now that we know the truth, it's time for the Coleman fan club to go to McCoy's family and apologize for all the pain they inflicted during this relentless effort to portray her murderer as a victim. It won't happen. They're too busy looking for another criminal to sanctify.
Before they do, they should learn a couple of lessons from the Roger Keith Coleman debacle. The most important one is this: Never believe a killer. Even when his last words are "An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight. Roger Keith Coleman, like every killer on death row, professed his innocence until the very moment he took his last breath.
Everyone who said otherwise was dead wrong. Here's a tip for those who want to abolish the death penalty: Your arguments might be more persuasive if they weren't always accompanied by phony campaigns that try to turn sociopaths into heroes. It never works.
Stolen Innocence Death penalty foes make easy marks for vicious murderers. The courts have refused to hear the evidence that could save him. Before Coleman was sent to the electric chair two days later for the rape, stabbing and near-beheading of year-old Wanda McCoy, his protestations of innocence had put an anti-death-penalty PR machine firmly in his corner. Mark Warner proved Coleman's guilt. James McCloskey of Centurion Ministries, who had spent nearly two decades trying to prove Coleman's innocence, was befuddled, asking the Washington Post: "How can somebody, with such equanimity, such dignity, such quiet confidence, make those his final words even though he is guilty?
Killers rally sympathetic activists behind them by using the manipulative skills that are integral to their criminal careers. Kevin Cooper is an inmate on California's death row who escaped execution on Feb. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a last-minute stay to retest evidence. This evidence withstood that retesting, and other defense arguments have been since shot down in federal district court. The appeals process on those findings is now working its way through the courts, and the earliest he may face execution again--if appeals go in favor of the state--may be late this year.
His case has slipped into the background lately as death-penalty foes stole the airways in hopes of clemency for Stanley "Tookie" Williams. Colonial Heights. Copper Hill. Cripple Creek.