DNA testing is under way in the case of Virginia’s Roger Keith Coleman, who was executed in 1992 proclaiming his innocence, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Not one of the more than 1,000 people executed in the U.S. since the death penalty was allowed to resume in 1976 has been proved innocent. Gov. Mark Warner’s decision on DNA tests could change that. If it happens, Coleman’s case will become a landmark for opponents of the death penalty. Warner is the first governor to order DNA testing after an execution.
Less definitive DNA work in 1990 put Coleman within 2 percent of the population that could have committed the 1981 rape and murder of Wanda Fay McCoy for which he was executed. Officials hope testing will be complete before Warner leaves office Jan. 14. The governor, a supporter of capital punishment, has supported the use of DNA evidence to clear people wrongfully convicted. A key question in this case is whether the evidence — sperm kept frozen at a California laboratory for 15 years — is still suitable for testing.