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He Was Guilty

Roger Keith Coleman was executed in 1992 and up until his death claimed innocence regarding his conviction for raping and murdering his wife’s sister.

The case has been watch closely because DNA testing was being done to confirm his guilt. Had the test results come back showing he did not perform these acts, it would have opened a flood-gate as it relates to capital punishment. The test results have come back and, indeed, they confirmed his guilt.

The tests, announced by the governor earlier this month, prove Roger Keith Coleman was guilty of the 1981 rape and murder of his sister-in-law, Gov. Mark R. 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 the coal mining town of Grundy.

The report from the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto concluded there was almost no conceivable doubt that Coleman was the source of the sperm found in the victim.

“The probability that a randomly selected individual unrelated to Roger Coleman would coincidentally share the observed DNA profile is estimated to be 1 in 19 million,” the report said.

I’m satisfied with the results of the DNA testing in Coleman’s case. I am a proponent of the death penalty. My support of the death penalty goes way back to my high school days on the debate team. Our debate coach would make us argue on the side we disagreed with in order to build strategy. It really only affirmed my support and belief in it. As the years have passed, and DNA tests and other tests have been able to bring forward more evidence, the death penalty seems even more relevant to me. Now the chances of convicting an innocent person are not as likely as they were in the past.

I’ve seen the legal wranglings over the years reduce the effectiveness of the death penalty as in many cases they are nothing more than life sentences on steriods. Appeal after appeal and after that years of waiting to actually carry out the sentence. It isn’t the penalty itself that’s flawed, it’s the lack of carrying it out expeditiously that reduces its intended effect - deter criminals from performing such terrible acts.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that in such cases, an appeals process can and should be offered and in some cases, I could possibly be convinced that a life sentence may be fitting. But to see a criminal sentenced to death sit on death row for years and years and years is almost criminal itself. To the families impacted by their crimes, to the tax payer who is paying for their care and to the officer’s who risk their lives managing within the prisons they reside.

James McCloskey, executive director of Centurion Ministries, had been fighting to prove Coleman’s innocence since 1988. The two shared Coleman’s final meal together — cold slices of pizza — just a few hours before Coleman was executed.

“I now know that I was wrong. Indeed, this is a bitter pill to swallow,” McCloskey said, describing Thursday’s findings as “a kick in the stomach” and adding that he felt betrayed by Coleman.

It’s unfortunate, Mr. McCloskey, but murderers are typically pretty good liars, too.


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