Roger Keith Coleman


I've done some reporting on the Innocence Projects around the country, though it's never turned into a story. One thing that needs to said is that there are criminals in jail who who will go so far as taking a DNA test, knowing full well that they are guilty. Moreover, it would not surprise to me if it were found that most people who beseech the Innocence Projects around, the country, are guilty.

I feel the need to highlight the case of Roger Keith Coleman, a man claimed innocence to the end, and whose case was murky enough that it garnered this cover story from TIME back in the 1992. Coleman was executed anyway. As luck would have it, I ended working at TIME almost ten years later, when Mark Warner allowed posthumous DNA testing to confirm Coleman's guilt.

In the run up, I was working on a follow-up story, and talked to some of the people who worked on his case. They were sure he would be found innocent. And frankly, so was I. I was wrong. The DNA test came back and proved the state was right. Coleman had done it. You must understand what this meant. There were people who had devoted their lives to proving Coleman's innocence, and they almost did. They were played by Coleman while he was alive, and he continued to play them from the grave.

I bring this out to make something clear. I don't have any doubts, first and foremost, about what, exactly, lies behind prison walls. There are evil people in this world. And there are, even more so, reckless people in this world who don't much care about human life.

I think there's this presumption that people who are anti-death penalty get their out of some sympathy for criminals, or some wide-eye naivete. Maybe some people get there that way. I came up in an era where young boys thought nothing of killing each other over cheap Starter jackets. I don't have any illusions about the criminal mind. I don't believe in the essential goodness of man--which is exactly why I oppose the death penalty.