“An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight. When my innocence is proven, I hope Americans will realize the injustice of the death penalty as all other civilized countries have.”
Those were Roger Coleman’s last words before he was executed in 1992.
They may prove to be prophetic. Just a few days ago, Virginia Governor Mark Warner ordered DNA testing to determine whether or not it was Coleman who had raped and murdered his sister-in-law in 1981.
Interestingly, as Criminal Appeal reminds us, Coleman also made some significant law...
"This is a case about federalism" was the first sentence in Justice O'Conner's majority opinion in Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722 (1991), a seminal case on federal habeas review of claims defaulted in state court. Invoking the two F's (federalism and finality) the Court held that Coleman would have no federal habeas corpus review of his claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel because he had defaulted on his claims by filing his notice of appeal from the state trial court's denial of his state habeas petition one-day late. The Court held that untimeliness was an adequate and independent ground for dismissal of the state habeas appeal. The Court also held that a procedural default in state court can be excused on federal habeas review only by a showing of cause and prejudice. Because there is no constitutional right to counsel in state habeas proceedings, state habeas counsel's late filing of the notice of appeal was not sufficient cause to excuse the default. Coleman was the executed in 1992.
It will be interesting to see whether, if it turns out that because of her grotesque and picayune ruling, an innocent man was executed, Justice O'Connor will finally change her view on the death penalty. Having some blood on your hands can, I think do that to a person, even a Supreme Court Justice.