Executed Inmate's DNA Test Positive

The DNA tests ordered by Virginia Governor Mark Warner on Roger Coleman, who was executed in 1992, have come back positive. It was Coleman's DNA that was found at the scene of the crime.

Peter Neufeld, Co-Founder of the Innocence Project, released this statement: (received by e-mail)

“Today, we commend Virginia Governor Mark Warner for his commitment to learning the truth, once and for all, in the Coleman case. Just as he was the first governor to recently order blanket testing of old non-capital cases, as soon as two men were exonerated following testing of the first batch of 30, he is the first and only governor to order posthumous testing in a capital case.

“For the sake of victims, the wrongly accused, law enforcement officials and the public at large, our criminal justice system must be based on finding the truth. DNA testing can provide certainty in many cases because it can confirm guilt, demonstrate innocence or help identify the true perpetrator. We call on governors in every other state to immediately catalog and test evidence in cases of people with claims of innocence who have been executed, so that we can have the certainty in every case that we now have in Roger Keith Coleman’s case.

“In the last three decades, 1,004 people have been executed in the United States, and there is critical DNA evidence in many of those cases that has never been tested. While nobody can say with certainty how may of these cases there are, nobody honestly doubts their existence or the seriousness of the questions they raise. Today we got just one answer, and one man can not speak for the correctness of the verdicts in a thousand other capital cases. Given the extraordinary number of post-conviction exonerations and the thousands more cleared by DNA testing while awaiting trial, questions and doubts about the fairness of our justice system are pervasive. Nobody can be satisfied about the correctness of one thousand based on the correctness of one.”

Since 1989, according to the Innocence Project, 172 people have been exonerated based on DNA evidence. Of those, 14 spent time on death row – including some who were within hours of being executed.

Amnesty International has released this statement:

Governor Mark Warner demonstrated tremendous courage by recognizing that states, courts, and juries can make mistakes. When and if they do, public officials have a responsibility to seek out the truth and erase any doubts that might tarnish the credibility of our judicial system. The death penalty, which is not synonymous with justice, is riddled with potentially fatal flaws.

Despite the outcome of these tests, the antiquated practice of state-sanctioned executions should be abolished based on its appalling record of human error, prosecutorial misconduct, racial bias, mistakes made by crime labs and unreliable witness testimony. These failures played a role in sending 122 men to death row over the last 33 years who were ultimately freed based on wrongful convictions--men who would, in all likelihood, have shared Coleman's fate had exculpatory evidence been discovered too late to save them.

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    Re: Executed Inmate's DNA Test Positive (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Jan 12, 2006 at 03:56:36 PM EST
    I'm glad I didn't put any money on that one...

    Re: Executed Inmate's DNA Test Positive (none / 0) (#4)
    by roy on Thu Jan 12, 2006 at 04:46:35 PM EST
    As a sort-of DP-supporter(*), I'll let you in on our secret: we already know we've executed innocent people. We don't know which ones were innocent, but out of 1000 people some had to be. And that's really innocent, I'm not even counting those who were insane or should have gotten off on technicalities. Some of us would like to improve the error rate, some wouldn't mind it getting worse, but none of us think it's perfect. Demanding that anti-DPers produce evidence that an innocent was killed is just a delaying tactic. (*)The "sort-of" is a long boring story, just don't be surprised if I seem to flip sides

    Re: Executed Inmate's DNA Test Positive (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Jan 12, 2006 at 06:16:01 PM EST
    I'm glad to know. It's been a long time to wait. Now attention and resources can be directed towards other questionable cases. This is the way it is supposed to work. Too bad it has taken this long. May they all be at peace. Aloha.

    Re: Executed Inmate's DNA Test Positive (none / 0) (#6)
    by jimcee on Thu Jan 12, 2006 at 06:44:41 PM EST
    Well it is better that he was guilty than not, I suppose. It would be better if all death penalty candidates were proven guilty by the same means. It doesn't change the fact that certain obviously guilty murderers should be put down. Bundy, Gacy, Lemeul Samuels, Ng, well I can think of a few that deserve to die at the Gov'ts hand.

    Re: Executed Inmate's DNA Test Positive (none / 0) (#7)
    by jimcee on Thu Jan 12, 2006 at 06:47:54 PM EST
    All death penalty cases should be proven by DNA.

    Re: Executed Inmate's DNA Test Positive (none / 0) (#8)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Jan 12, 2006 at 07:12:30 PM EST
    All death penalty cases should be proven by DNA.
    What if there is no DNA? Not every victim is raped, and not every killer leaves behind blood or hair (with root) evidence behind. Yet these people are often sentenced to death as well. I am a little disappointed about Coleman. I've believed for several years that he was innocent, but I know when to say I was wrong. However, with something like 122 people on death row exonerated shortly before their executions just in the last decade or so, it's preposterous to believe that we haven't executed innocent people.

    Re: Executed Inmate's DNA Test Positive (none / 0) (#9)
    by jimcee on Thu Jan 12, 2006 at 08:45:04 PM EST
    rojop, I was being honest about the DNA thing, without that I have no problem with life w/o parole if the w/o parole part is true. Somehow there always seems to be someone who thinks a lifetime in prison is 'cruel and unusual' and will try to free someone who should be left in prison regardless of thier crimes.

    Re: Executed Inmate's DNA Test Positive (none / 0) (#10)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 07:23:00 AM EST
    What if it had shown Coleman was innocent? Then what? Warner issues a letter that says, Oops? How would the state make amends for such an error? Thurgood Marshall voted against every death sentence that came before the SCOTUS just because of this scenario. He recognized the ultimate irreversibility of capital punishment and human imperfection to mete it out.

    Re: Executed Inmate's DNA Test Positive (none / 0) (#11)
    by Johnny on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 11:28:22 PM EST
    This is good. Collectively, a million sighs of relief from pro-death americans.

    Re: Executed Inmate's DNA Test Positive (none / 0) (#12)
    by Dadler on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 11:41:06 PM EST
    Johnny, Excellent perspective, my friend. Here here!!

    Re: Executed Inmate's DNA Test Positive (none / 0) (#13)
    by roger on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 04:58:19 AM EST
    Johnny, Also a sigh of relief from anti-death americans. Nobody wants to see an innocent guy executed