- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 19, 2004


Virginia Gov. Mark Warner is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether to order new DNA testing on evidence that has been sitting for 14 years in a California laboratory.

The evidence is a semen sample recovered from the body of a woman who was raped and murdered in her Grundy, Va., home in 1981.

The results could answer a long-lingering question: Was Roger Keith Coleman put to death in 1992 for a crime he did not commit?

Mr. Warner was asked about the matter earlier this month during a talk show on WVTF-FM public radio. He promised the caller, Jack Payden-Travers of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, that he will make a decision shortly.

The request for new testing has been sitting on the governor’s desk for more than a year, and he called the case a “tough issue.”

It could be complicated further by a dispute over who would conduct the tests.

Edward Blake, the forensic scientist who has kept the remaining sample frozen since he performed initial DNA tests in 1990, told the Roanoke Times earlier this month that he will not hand over the evidence.

“There is no logical, rational, scientific basis for that sample to ever leave this laboratory, and if I have anything to say about it, it won’t leave this laboratory,” Mr. Blake said in a telephone interview from his office in Richmond, Calif.

The most reliable tests, he said, would be conducted by him at his laboratory. “The state of Virginia has a vested interest” in tests that would either confirm Coleman’s guilt or be inconclusive, he said.

Mr. Blake added that transporting it across the county could damage the 23-year-old evidence.

Capital punishment opponents have followed the case closely, keenly aware that it could turn public sentiment their way.

Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls declined to comment on who might do the tests because the governor has yet to decide whether they should even be conducted.

Mr. Blake has had the sample in cold storage since 1990, when he was selected by Coleman’s attorneys to perform DNA testing.

Mr. Blake found that Coleman was within 2 percent of a population that could have produced the semen sample found at the crime scene.

Coleman was executed in 1992, maintaining his innocence from the electric chair.

Adamant as he is that the evidence be tested, Mr. Blake said he would not be surprised if the results determine that the state had the right man all along.

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