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DNA Tests Confirm Guilt of Executed Man

"Had the evidence shown him to be innocent . . . that would have had a tremendous effect on the anti-death-penalty movement in terms of perhaps encouraging moratoriums and even abolition," McCloskey said. "Those are not the set of facts we have in this instance. That will not happen, at least as the result of this case."

But he and his attorney, who battled without pay for six years to have Coleman's DNA tested, insisted that Coleman's case will serve as a model to encourage other politicians and prosecutors to allow testing of DNA before and after someone is convicted. "The results in this case don't end the debate over the death penalty," said Paul Enzinna, a lawyer with the Washington firm of Baker, Botts.

Tom Scott, a criminal defense lawyer from Grundy who helped prosecute Coleman, said he remained convinced all along that the right man was tried, convicted and executed.

"I never had any doubt about his guilt, never," Scott said. "All the evidence always pointed to Coleman."

During Coleman's trial, authorities said evidence included hair on McCoy's body that was similar to Coleman's and the account of a jailhouse informant. Coleman also had been convicted of attempted rape a few years earlier.

Coleman said he had an alibi and would not have had time to commit the killing. Defense attorneys also gathered affidavits from people who said another man admitted to killing McCoy.

The testing in Coleman's case marks only the second time nationwide that DNA tests have been performed after an execution. In 2000, tests ordered by a Georgia judge in the case of Ellis W. Felker, who was executed in 1996, were inconclusive.

Genetic tests exonerated Florida inmate Frank L. Smith in 2000, several months after he died of natural causes while awaiting execution.

After the results of the testing in Coleman's case were made public, the death penalty debate continued.

"Today's finding is a further demonstration that Virginians' trust in our criminal justice system is well founded," said Robert F. McDonnell (R), who will become Virginia's attorney general tomorrow. "Today is further proof that this is exactly the manner in which the death penalty has been, and will continue to be, employed in the commonwealth."

Joshua K. Marquis, vice president of the National District Attorneys Association and an Oregon prosecutor, was more vehement. "This is not at all unexpected and puts to a lie the myth that wrongful convictions are epidemic," he said. "Coleman was not just a rapist and a murderer but a liar as well."

But Peter Neufeld, co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project, which has helped exonerate more than 170 inmates, said that there may have been mistakes in other cases and that similar investigations should continue.

"Today we got just one answer, and one man cannot speak for the correctness of the verdicts in a thousand other capital cases," Neufeld said.


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