Dithering on DNA
WHEN MARK R. WARNER became Virginia's governor three years ago, we greeted him with the friendly suggestion that he order new DNA testing in the case of Roger Keith Coleman. The commonwealth executed Mr. Coleman back in 1992, but both before and since the execution, his guilt has been heatedly disputed. An early form of DNA testing before his death suggested that he did commit the rape and murder for which he was condemned, but its methodology was controversial, and more modern testing might finally put the matter to rest. Ordering the testing should not be a tough call. New tests might -- by proving Mr. Coleman's guilt once and for all -- remove a cloud that has hung over Virginia's criminal justice system since the execution.
This is getting ridiculous. It should take no great political courage for Mr. Warner to order the testing. It's hardly as though Mr. Coleman -- who is dead, after all -- will walk free if the testing exonerates him. The only questions the case still raises are of historical accuracy and retroactive accountability for the state's criminal justice system.
And it concludes:
Mr. Coleman, after all, insisted upon his innocence from the day of his arrest to his haunting last words: "An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight." If he was telling the truth -- however improbable that might seem -- respecting the "finality" of his conviction means never prosecuting the person who actually committed the murder. Every day that Mr. Warner dithers, he tacitly betrays an anxiety that the justice system over which he presides cannot withstand daylight.
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