I am fascinated by the decision of Virginia Governor Mark Warner to order DNA tests on evidence related to the case of Roger Keith Coleman
, who was executed in 1992. I remember reading the Time Magazine
article about his case when I was in high school. At the time, I was a very conservative death penalty supporter. That article, I think, was the beginning of a shift in my ideas on the criminal justice system in general, and the death penalty in particular. I also remember reading years ago about his family's efforts, after he was executed, to get the DNA tests done anyway. I remember the state prosecutors vigorously arguing against such testing. What I remember most was the reason cited by either the prosecutors themselves or the judge who ultimately denied testing (my memory on this point is a bit hazy)--that if the results were exculpatory, it would undermine the public's confidence in the justice system. How's that for good, sound legal reasoning? If it is proven that the state executed an innocent man, the public will have less confidence in the system that sends people to their executions, therefore we can't let any possible evidence of their innocence be brought forward.
Like Blonde Justice
, I'm not sure which way I want the tests to come out in Coleman's case. On one hand, I would feel better if it turns out that an innocent man was not executed. On the other hand, as someone who now opposes the death penalty on both moral and systemic grounds, it could be the most significant development in years in the long fight for abolition.