Executions · Newspaper clippings · Virginia

Man executed for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law, despite public opinion that he may be innocent

May 20, 1992
Virginia
Roger Keith Coleman is executed for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law

In 1982, Coleman’s 19-year-old sister-in-law, Wanda McCoy, was raped, stabbed, and suffered a neck slash so severe she was almost decapitated. Coleman, a miner, was arrested and convicted on circumstantial evidence — blood on Coleman’s clothing that matched the victim’s, a fingerprint, and a dark, dusty substance was found on the victim’s body — and unreliable (at the time) DNA evidence; he was convicted in 1986 and sentenced to death.

Media attention was brought to the case by those who believed Coleman was innocent. A second, more reliable DNA test was performed in 1990, still placing Coleman at the scene of the murder along with 2% of the general population. In 1992, Time ran a cover story on Coleman’s possible innocence, prompting a flood of letters and calls to Virginia’s governor. Because of the public’s opinion that Coleman may be innocent, a secret polygraph test was administered. Coleman failed. After the test was failed, the Governor did not grant clemency and Coleman was executed by electric chair as planned.

The media again picked up on Coleman’s case in 2000 and 2002. Initially the newest Governor denied reinvestigation, but in 2006 a new, even more reliable DNA test was permitted. It again placed Coleman at the scene of the murder with a 1 in 19,000,000 chance of a random match, again confirming Coleman’s guilt.

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