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In Virginia, DNA Tests Ordered in Case of Man Executed in 1992

January 06, 2006|From Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. Mark R. Warner on Thursday ordered DNA evidence to be tested to determine whether a man convicted of rape and murder was innocent when he was executed in 1992.

If the testing shows Roger Keith Coleman did not rape and kill his sister-in-law in 1981, it will be the first time in the United States a person has been exonerated by scientific testing after his execution, death penalty opponents said.

Warner said he ordered the tests because of technological advances that could provide a level of forensic certainty not available in the 1980s.

"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.

"I believe we must always follow the available facts to a more complete picture of guilt or innocence," Warner said.

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 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. Then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's office was flooded with calls and letters of protest.

Warner has heard requests throughout his term from death penalty opposition groups who wanted the evidence retested.

"This is a proper action for the governor to take. It's not right to shy away from a difficult question or even shy away from reopening cases when there is a chance that something new might be learned," said Richard Dieter, head of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Coleman's lawyers argued that he did not have time to commit the crime, that tests showed semen from two men was found on McCoy's body and that another man bragged about killing her. Coleman was executed 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."

Brad McCoy, who was married to Wanda McCoy when she was slain, said he remained convinced Coleman killed her and said he had been hurt by the questions about Coleman's guilt.

"I really don't understand why it's being done," said McCoy, who has remarried. "We keep talking about Roger Coleman as the victim. Wanda McCoy was the victim. I have no doubt in my mind it will prove him guilty. Where does it end?"

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