New DNA tests find executed Virginia man was guilty

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Schematic representation of the DNA which illustrates its double helix structure.

New DNA tests done on Roger Keith Coleman, the Virginia man executed in May 1992 for rape and murder, find him guilty of committing the crime.

The results were announced by Governor Mark Warner during a Thursday afternoon news conference. "The confirmation that Roger Keith Coleman’s DNA was present [at the crime scene] reaffirms the verdict and the sanction," Warner said.

The tests end more than a decade of debate by death penalty advocates on both side of the Coleman issue. More than 1,000 have been put to death in the United States since the penalty was re-introduced in 1976. Coleman maintained his innocence in the 1981 crime up until the time of his execution, and never admitted guilt.

The Coleman tests, if he were exonerated, would have been the first time a person who was executed would later be found innocent. A report issued with announcement states that testing standards performed today on the DNA evidence could only share a profile similar to another’s DNA in 1 out of 19 million people, a level of precision not possible at the time of his conviction.

The order for the re-test is one of the last official acts performed by Governor Warner, who will step down as governor on Saturday. The testing was done in Toronto, Canada by the Ontario Centre of Forensic Sciences, whose findings report that Coleman could not be ruled out as the source of a sperm samples found from the crime scene.

The attorney for Coleman argued that his client did not have time to commit the crime, and that tests showed semen from two different men was found inside the rape victim, Wanda Fay McCoy . The attorney also said that another man bragged that he murdered her.

The governor at the time, Douglas Wilder, allowed the sanction to proceed against Coleman after he failed a lie-detector test administered shortly before the execution was carried out.

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