The Virginia attorney general's office is objecting to DNA testing that could prove the guilt or innocence of Roger Keith Coleman, executed in 1992, because, among other reasons, it says the public does not have a "right to know."
The Boston Globe and Centurion Ministries are seeking to have another DNA test on spermatozoa on a vaginal swab taken from Wanda McCoy, who was raped and murdered in Grundy in 1981. Coleman always maintained his innocence of the crime.
Many agreed with him, and the case attracted international media attention. Coleman even appeared on the cover of Time Magazine.
The evidence was DNA tested years after Coleman's trial on behalf of Coleman. The test showed Coleman could not be excluded as the rapist. New DNA testing techniques might definitively prove his guilt or innocence, argues the newspaper and Centurion, a New Jersey-based group that works to help free innocent inmates.
But the attorney general's office is opposing any new tests of the evidence being kept in a lab in Richmond, Calif., by DNA expert Edward T. Blake, who performed the original test in 1991.
Citing case law, Assistant Attorney General Pamela A. Rumpz wrote Buchanan County Circuit Judge Keary Williams that "regarding the public's 'right to know,' that right 'focuses on the public's interest in important matters.'"
"Twenty years after the crime and more than eight years after the execution of the culprit, there simply is no 'important' interest in retesting the very DNA evidence which already limited the perpetrator to .2% of the Caucasian population - including Coleman," she argued.
The state also argued that neither the Globe nor Centurion have any legal standing to challenge Williams' Sept. 7 order to Blake to have the material sent back to Virginia and state custody.
The Globe has expressed concerns that the evidence could be damaged in transit. Rumpz said the state had no objection to Williams amending his ruling to make sure the evidence is protected.
John A. Farrell, a Globe reporter, said the newspaper is seeking DNA tests in cases in other states as well in light of accusations made by opponents of capital punishment that innocent people may be executed.
"By using DNA technology to test the results of previous executions, we can test that theory and arrive at some answers," he said. The Globe has already won the first such court order in the country in a Georgia case, Farrell said.
The attorney general's office cited a Buchanan County court order dated Jan. 28, 1991, which notes that Blake had assured the state that "Dr. Blake will maintain and preserve the evidence at his laboratory until further order of the court."
Paul F. Enzinna, a Washington lawyer representing Centurion Ministries, said he sees "common ground here that could form the basis for an agreement by all the parties." He believes the state is leaving the door open to test the material.
Enzinna said he has told the governor's office that Centurion does not want the state to surrender the evidence, "all we want is that the evidence gets tested, and if that means Paul Ferrara testing it, that's fine." Ferrara is the head of the state's Division of Forensic Science.
"We're interested in getting this stuff tested and however we can do that that best satisfies everybody who's interested in this is fine with us. Whether Dr. Blake does the testing and Dr. Ferrara goes out there and watches him do it, or Dr. Ferrara does the testing here and we get to observe that," said Enzinna.
Rumpz said there is no remaining factual issue as to Coleman's guilt. Evidence presented at his trial included that pubic hairs matching Coleman's were found on the victim's body, Coleman had type B blood and so did the attacker, and the same type of blood as the victim's was found on Coleman's jeans.
The 1991 DNA testing bolstered the case against him, said the attorney general's office. In addition, Coleman, shortly before he was executed, took and failed a polygraph examination.
"Under all these circumstances,
the Globe's allegation that there is a legitimate public debate regarding
Coleman's guilt rings entirely hollow and is entitled to no credit," Rumpz
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