Friday, January 13, 2006

Virginia man actually was guilty

A couple of weeks ago I blogged here on the issue of an innocent man being executed despite that innocence. This reflects a case currently going before the Supreme Court where Tennessee seeks to execute a man named Paul House for a murder many now doubt he committed, all in the name of finality - he was convicted, and we can't keep re-opening cases in the name of "new evidence" if we ever want to get these pesky executions behind us.

Well, one of the cases that I referenced where an innocent person may have been executed was that of Roger Keith Coleman, executed in 1992 despite a general dearth of evidence against him, and scientific evidence that could prove his innocence.

It didn't.

DNA tests just conducted show that he was, indeed, the man who, at the very least, raped his sister in law, and in every likelihood, killed her as well (to the extent that his supporters contended that a lack of a DNA match would exonerate him here, it convicts him here as well - what's good for the goose is good for the gandor).

I hope I haven't suggested in my posts that cases in which there is no physical evidence cannot be sufficient in getting the right person, because that is certainly not my belief. My position is simply consistent with the evidence we have seen over the last decade of increased reliance on DNA tests - newly discovered DNA evidence has cast doubt on many of these convictions that were based on things like eyewitness identifications or false confessions, or jailhouse snitches. This does not bring every conviction into doubt.

Of course, we still have the Cantu case out of Texas, which seems utterly suspicious, but will never be cleared up by physical evidence because none exists, and so he'll be just as unable to prove himself innocent of that murder as I am of proving myself innocent of killing Nicole Simpson (hey, I lived in LA at the time, my wife was out of town when it happened, so I was home alone with no alibi, and I can't PROVE I didn't do it, so I guess I'm not actually innocent of it, just not guilty - yet????).

They call this a setback for the death penalty opposition. I disagree. This is a victory for those who wanted some degree of justice (I'm not suggesting that execution is better justice than LWOP). Now we know for certain that, regardless of what you think of the Death Penalty, at least the right person was executed, and a killer doesn't walk free while an innocent man was murdered in the name of "justice."

That would be truly disturbing, and I don't relish it happening, no matter how much "good" it does the movement.


ambimb said...

It's hard to see how this isn't a setback for death penalty opponents -- for exactly the reason you cite: It suggests that the death penalty is a form of justice. This gives comfort to DP supporters b/c it shows the state executed the "right" person. But it also gives DP supporters ammunition; every time someone on death row claims to be innocent, DP supporters can just say "Everybody on death row says they're innocent. Just look at Roger Coleman!" A high profile case showing that "justice was done" (as if that's possible when the state commits murder) is exactly what death penalty opponents did *not* need right now.

Anonymous said...

Just on gut, I was always a little wary about Coleman's claims of innocence. There was always something very detached and odd about his protestations. Also, do you think that Coleman's claims would have gone as far if raised by an African American?

Dennis R. Wilkins said...

I like the way you discussed the Coleman case. I was upset, sad to say. I didn't know Mr. Coleman, or the victim for that matter. But I want the death penalty to leave us - I believe that we need to have an enlightened society that does not put its citizens to death.

Then I realized that I had made Mr. Coleman a symbol, which is just as bad. I was rooting for him being innocent, despite the fact that he had been executed. Upon reflection, this is not the side I ought to be on.

What I think Colemen ought to teach us is how wrong it was for the system to fight so hard from allowing the DNA test. Colemen died in 1992. Why, for God's sake, should it take 13 years to test the DNA? Why should the state try so hard to destroy the evidence? Virginia fought like hell to destroy that evidence. Why? Because they were concerned that they had made a mistake, and that he really was innocent. That is what I am against - the power of the state ruthlessly suppressing the truth in the interest of protecting those in power. That is corruption of the worst kind.

When a defendant runs after a crime has been committed, prosecutors argue that the running is evidence of flight - evidence that the defendant committed the crime. And well they should. We should also impart such foul notions on the states and the federal government, when they apply. Why else should or would the government attempt to hide the truth, except when they have something to lose from the truth coming out.

If our government is continually afraid of the truth then our government is not fit to hold the mantle of democracy, and is not fit to punish those it claims have committed crimes. This axiom applies to Guantanamo and Iraq just as well.

PD Dude said...

Damn, that was well written, Dennis. Great perspective.