A new round of DNA tests that death penalty opponents believed might prove the innocence of an executed man instead confirmed that Roger Keith Coleman was guilty when he went to the electric chair in 1992.
In a case closely watched by both sides in the death penalty debate, Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner announced that testing on DNA taken from sperm proved Coleman raped and murdered his sister-in-law Wanda McCoy in 1981.
Coleman went to his death proclaiming his innocence, and a finding that he was wrongly executed almost certainly would have had a powerful effect on the public's attitude toward capital punishment. Death penalty opponents argue, among other points, that the risk of a mistake by the criminal justice system is too great to allow such grave and irreversible punishment.
"We have sought the truth using DNA technology not available at the time the commonwealth carried out the ultimate criminal sanction," Warner said in a statement. "The confirmation that Roger Coleman's DNA was present reaffirms the verdict and the sanction. Again, my prayers are with the family of Wanda McCoy at this time."
Coleman was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of his wife's sister, who was found raped, stabbed and nearly beheaded in her home in the coal mining town of Grundy.
Initial DNA and blood tests in 1990 placed Coleman within the 0.2% of the population who could have produced the semen at the crime scene.
But his lawyers said the expert they hired to conduct those initial DNA tests misinterpreted the results.