Sunday, January 15, 2006

Good Thing He Was Guilty

"Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends." --J. R. R. Tolkien

Virginia Governor Mark Warner(D) last week received results of DNA testing in a capital murder case in an effort to either confirm or deny the guilt of convicted murderer, Robert Keith Coleman.

What is singularly compelling in this particular case, is that Robert Keith Coleman has been dead for over 13 years. He was duly executed, according to Virginia State law, in 1992.

There has been speculation in the media and in the blogosphere, as to what his motivation might be for ordering DNA testing to be done now, when it is so obviously too late. If testing concluded that Virginia executed the wrong man, he is still dead.

A lot of people have made the point that ordering DNA testing on a long since executed prisoner is a political move. But to what political end? I haven't really given the matter a lot of thought.

I have been busy the last two days creating a new and separate blog for the purpose of setting down in text, an old tape recorded message I had listened to so much, that I have it pretty well memorized over the years. I lost my copy of the tape when I moved to Maryland, so I wanted to get what I remember of it down before my memory fails me further. But I digress.

I am going to think this thing out as I type. Here is how my thought processes work:

Warner is a Democrat. I know nothing more about him other than he is considered, according to Wikipedia, almost a clone of Bill Clinton, politically.

Let's hope he isn't a clone of Clinton, morally. Dang! I digress again.

Ok. Where was I? Oh. As I mentioned, Warner is a Democrat, which leads me to think that he is likely against the death penalty, but that isn't set in stone. So, the case can be made that testing the DNA of someone who has already been executed, for an anti-death penalty Governor would seem to indicate that he was attempting to make some sort of point. It strikes me, that if he is indeed an opponent of the death penalty, he is taking a big chance in testing if he is seeking to posthumously exonerate the man.

I have personally been actively involved in jury trials, once as a jurist, and once as (I blush to say) a defendant, and I have come to the conclusion, based on those experiences, that jury's seldom make mistakes. You see? When someone is called to jury duty, and is approved to sit on said jury, they tend, for the most part, to take their duty very seriously, and to do their very best to render a fair and impartial verdict. In addition, it is very hard to secure a guilty verdict against anyone since the criteria for rendering that verdict is so narrow.

Hence, someone who is found guilty is found guilty with out a doubt. This is not to say mistakes are never made. I am quite sure that on occasion, some one has no doubt gone to jail, or been executed wrongfully. The odds are simply too high in favor of that conclusion.

Getting back to my point, (Boy! I bet I must have been fun in bars when I used to drink, eh?) If Mark Warner wanted to find proof that Coleman was innocent after all these years, it may have been so he could run for higher office on the basis, partly, that he has found proof that sometimes innocent men get executed, thus smugly shoring up what could be a contentious plank in his platform. I say "smugly" because if he discovered what he was hoping to discover, he would probably wear that triumph like a badge of honor. I know I would.

If that was Warner's goal, he must have been somewhat disappointed when the test came back proving conclusively that he was, as the jury concluded, guilty of the murder for which he was executed.

On the other hand, if he called for the testing in order to validate the findings of the court, it might have been to possibly silence his critics, again, in preparation for a run at a higher office. That same Wikipedia article indicated he hasn't shied away from denying clemency appeals in the past. Warner has denied clemency in 11 other cases that have come before him as governor.

Two more points, then I'll go away.

Wikipedia says, "On November 29, 2005, as is his prerogative as governor, Warner commuted the death sentence of Robin Lovitt to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Lovitt was convicted of murdering Clayton Dicks at an Arlington pool hall in 1999. After his trial in 2001, a court clerk illegally destroyed evidence that was used against Lovitt during his trial, but that could have exonerated him upon further DNA testing. A few weeks earlier, Virginia implemented a law requiring the preservation of DNA evidence in death row cases."

I think maybe, illegally destroying evidence that could be used to overturn a conviction may have something to do with Warner's decision to order the tests.

Lastly, It just occurred to me that the jury members that participated in Coleman's trial might also be breathing a sigh of relief at the news that they didn't send an innocent man to the chair after all. Can you imagine how guilty they would have felt had the test showed him to be innocent?

Wow! That brings up another thought! A much more harrowing thought. If this practice of testing DNA years after the execution becomes very common, it strikes me that it is possible that some jury members, somewhere down the road, could feel very very guilty upon finding out the man they convicted was innocent! What would the repercussions of that revelation bring? It is possible that some poor innocent jury member might be so overwhelmed with guilt over that scenario, they could conceivably do themselves in, or at least, end up in years of counseling.

I wonder if Governor Warner considered that possibility.


The WordSmith from Nantucket said... a side note, did you hear, post-Tookie, how another California death-row in-mate is seeking clemency from our Gubernator? Mike Farrell also made statements. Something about the guy being so old, blind and frail, it'd be a crime to execute him now. He's too old and in poor health, so we shouldn't execute him for the crime he was sentenced for....haha. From behind bars, he orchestrated to have 3 witnesses murdered and conspired to have 4 others killed.

Gayle said...

Mark, I hope you don't mind my answering the wordsmith: I agree with you: The bas*ard needs to go to his maker regardless of how old he is.

Mark: Excellent post! :) I like the way your mind works and yes... you probably drove sober people nuts back when you were drinking, but since you don't find many sober people in bars, I doubt if you bothered anyone in a bar at all! Sometimes you are pretty funny. :)

You do make a very good point regarding possible "juror guilt." For those jury members who are wrapped pretty tight (I would like to consider myself in that group) I don't think they would suffer too much. They would know that they reached their conclusion on the evidence they were given during the trial. If the evidence was faulty, then guilt lies on the system and not on individual jurors. For those jurors who aren't that wrapped, they may suffer guilt, as you said. It's going to be interesting to see how these things play out.

TStockmann said...

On a practical basis, it's easy to make a case for the testing: if the man had been innocent, the murder might still have been out there.

But on the larger question: at least by my values, if we have to avoid discovering the truth of anything for fear that the truth will weaken our preferred policy position, we've gone over to the dark side. And this applies as much to the folks on the left, like a grad school prof of mine who stated that any research that would substantiate a racial IQ gap shouldn't be done, as it does to those on the right decrying the Abu Ghraib revelations.

Speaking of which, how about a entry on:

this article.

Apologies if the link doesn't work. You can find it under current yahoo news editorials
"A hero scorned";_ylt=Asuh3V3TLIRY4TPTTteO09qs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3YWFzYnA2BHNlYwM3NDI-

Goat said...

Not only that Mark, Warner gave a few thousand convicted felons the right to vote. He is pandering to the loonbat base in his bid for '08.

Mark said...

Well, Goat. he IS a Democrat, and he will do the things that Democrats do. It is expected.

Giving covicted felons the vote is part of the Democrats agenda. They hope it will garner them enough votes to push them over the Republicans in the next elections.

Hoever, I wonder how many criminals bother to vote for anyone? Is it even worth the trouble of letting them vote?

Gayle, I was referring to the way my mind plays word association games with itself. It was worse when I drank. I tend to talk incessantly (ramble incoherently)when I drink.

Mark said...

Interesting article, TS, If those things happened the way "USA today" says they did, shame on America for that injustice.

Whenever I read things like that, though, I have to wonder...What part of the story is not being told? I mean, there ARE at least 2 sides to every story.

One thing the article mentions that sent a red flag up for me:

He fired on American troops? Maybe he had to, but then again, maybe he didn't. I wonder how many Americans he killed. I also wonder if firing on American troops was his only option?

Also, I don't know if you are old enoigh to remember Viet Nam, but I remember talking to friends that were actually in the middle of it, and one thing they all agree on was that they never knew which civilians would have grenades strapped to their bodies and which were innocent civilians.

The ARVN used babies, pregnant women, elerly men and women, and anyone else as human bombs to kill Americans.

And the innocent civilians didn't volunteer, either.

tugboatcapn said...

Wordsmith, what condition was he in when he was sentenced to death in the first place?

Mark, that's just what america needs. Another Bill Clinton.

He is the main reason that our Country's politics are so funky right now...

This looks to me like another example of a Liberal falling on his face. If Warner was trying to prove the injustice of the Death penalty, then he failed miserably.

Had he succeeded in proving his point, nothing could have been done about it other than postponing or avoiding the execution of more murderers.

Poison Pero said...

I still think Dennis Prager puts it best:

"It is a cosmic injustice for anyone who takes the life of another to keep his own life."
Great post, Mark......And as a side towards the Wordsmith:

Fry that POS........Should have been dead long before he became too old and indigent. The fact he's been alive so long is a travesty.

It's time to "even out the scales."
Go see my Dookie Williams post.....Same thing goes for Farrell

TStockmann said...

Mark: The facts of My Lai were well-established in an American military court of law: it was a massacre; the murdered civilians had been no immediate, or even demonstrable, threat. Calley, a convicted mass murderer, served a total of 3 years of house arrest.

Sorry you're so concerned about the possibility that someone "fired on American troops" should they persist in a pretty heinous war crime after warning, but actually I believe those orders never had to be carried out.

Okay, all you rightie hang-em-high's - can we hear a chorus about how Calley and his men should have been executed? I mean, Nuremberg established that acting under orders was no mitigation. About how any American soldier or intelligence officer killing prisoners in Afghanistan or Iraq should likewise be executed?

Or do we have a little sliding scale for warzones? Ones we're happy to apply to the other side as well.

Goat said...

I also support the death penalty for rape of the child and aggravated variety.

De Barto said...

yeah, you're definately right...