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LOCAL Commentary :: Civil & Human Rights

Was an Innocent man executed on May 20, 1992?

Virginia awaits the results of DNA testing in the 1981 rape and murder of Wanda Faye McCoy in Grundy. The findings which could change the course of the death penalty in Virginia are expected back later this week. If Roger Keith Coleman is found innocent and that is still a question that remains unanswered as I write, Virginia will have to face the reality that we have executed an innocent man.
We know that people have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in Virginia. That occurred in the case of Earl Washington Jr. who was nine days away from execution in 1996 when pardoned by Gov. Gilmore. Indeed seven men whose capital cases raised substantial questions of guilt or innocence have had their death sentences commuted under Governors Wilder, Allen, Gilmore and most recently Gov. Mark Warner who on Nov. 29th commuted Robin Lovitt’s death sentence to Life-in- prison-without-parole due to the Commonwealth’s illegal destruction of DNA evidence of possible innocence.

The Coleman case may likely be the first scientifically proven case of a wrongful execution. It has national significance for the death penalty debate. For years death penalty supporters have responded to opponents claims of wrongful execution with “Show us the body!? Due to a twist of fate Virginia, second only to Texas in the number of men and women executed since the resumption of such punishment in 1977, may hold the corpse. Roger was executed on May 20, 1992. As he was strapped into Virginia’s electric chair he uttered his last words:

“An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight. When my innocence is proven, I hope Americans will realize the injustice of the death penalty as all other civilized countries have.?

Regardless of the results, the actions of Gov. Warner have established a precedent for the posthumous testing of evidence of possible innocence. It is the first time a Governor has order such a review in the case of an individual who was executed.

VADP is opposed to all executions regardless of guilt or innocence for the very definition of capital punishment as practiced in the United States is “those without the capital get the punishment!? It is a system that the majority of the world’s nations have abandoned as ineffective at deterrence, cost ineffective, discriminatory against the poor and arbitrary and capricious in its application. The death penalty is a relic of a bygone era that should hold no place in a modern system of jurisprudence.

People who wish to work for an end to executions in Virginia or indeed just reforms in the present way the system is applied in Virginia are invited to check out the VADP website for further information.

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