January 5, 2006
Thirteen years after the Commonwealth of Virginia executed a man for the rape and murder of a woman, they are now retesting his DNA.
Roger Keith Coleman was convicted and put to death for the 1981 rape and murder of his sister-in-law. After years of consideration and just days before he is no longer Governor, Mark Warner announced Coleman's DNA will be retested.
In a released statement, Warner 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."
Coleman was executed for the 1981 rape and murder of 19-year-old Wanda McCoy in the coal mining town of Grundy. Up until the day he died, Coleman professed his innocence.
"I didn't commit the murder. I didn't commit the rape. I was not involved and I don't know for certain who did. What else is there for me to say?" he said in an interview back in May of 1992.
That profession caught the attention of groups around the world including Charlottesville based, Virginians Against the Death Penalty. For years, they have contended that Virginia should know definitively if Coleman was guilty.
"If an innocent man was executed, wouldn't the Commonwealth want to know in order to investigate and determine why that happened and try to remedy whatever part of the system allowed for an innocent man to be executed," said Steven Rosenfield.
If the testing exonerates Coleman, Joshua Scott from the Center for Politics believes the results will send shockwaves through the country.
"The fallout will be enormous, not only in terms of how it's going to shape public opinion, but also how it's going to shape public policy," he said.
If the DNA shows that Coleman was not the killer, it will be the first time in U.S. History that an executed person will be exonerated by DNA evidence. At this time, one of two samples has been transferred from a lab in California to a lab in Toronto for analysis.
Governor Warner hopes the retesting will be completed before Inauguration day on January 14.