I'm truly fascinated by this news that Virginia Governor Mark Warner has ordered DNA testing of Roger Keith Coleman, who was executed in 1992.
In law school, I worked on an innocence case, and our client died in prison while the DNA was at the lab. Despite our attempts, the court ultimately decided that we had lost all standing to go forward with the DNA testing.
I hope that this will open up a new avenue for that family to get the DNA testing that they so desperately wanted.
As for Coleman, I don't know much about the case other than what I've seen in the news in the past two days.
And, I feel torn because I don't really know what to hope for.
If the DNA testing confirms that he was guilty, I'm still not happy that someone was executed - whether or not he was guilty. So, it doesn't do much for me.
But, if the DNA testing exonerates him, obviously that's bad because it means an innocent man was executed. And it means that the actual rapist and murderer was not punished. But, on the other hand, it will bring a lot of attention to the flaws of capital punishment.
I know you might be wondering whether or not capital punishment and innocence really requires more attention. Especially if you're a liberal like me, reading liberal public defender blogs all day. You might not realize that there are people out there who have no idea that the whole issue exists.
I have a very good friend from college who is an extremely conservative Republican. When I was in law school, I told her about the innocence cases I was working on. And she absolutely positively did not believe that an innocent person could be convicted, much less given the death penalty. Even then, when I told her that nearly one hundred people had been exonerated by DNA testing, she responded, "Right, but they were finally exonerated. The system worked."
Except that it's generally not the "system" that is working with the convicted. It's charitable organizations and academic institutions.
We've talked about my cases a thousand times since then, but she's still of the same basic mind set. So, I guess that while I can't hope that an innocent man was executed, I think I can hope that if that's what happened, then some good will come out of it if ultimately brings some much needed attention to the flaws in the system.