When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

13 May 2006

When the radical priest come to get me released we was all on the cover of Newsweek

Many death penalty opponents hoped that Roger Coleman, executed by the State of Virginia in 1992, would be exonerated (posthumously) from charges of rape and murder by evaluation of DNA evidence, a technique that wasn't available when he was arrested, tried and convicted.

Coleman's case had been a cause célèbre in the early 1990s; he was a bright, articulate man who steadfastly maintained his innocence, and many people came to believe his story.

When the DNA test results finally came back, it was clear that Coleman was, in fact, guilty as charged. Quite a blow to the anti-death-penalty forces who had championed Coleman's case, many of whom (including representatives of the high-powered DC law firm Arnold & Porter) simply weren't interested in commenting for Glenn Frankel's story in Sunday's Washington Post Magazine.

How surprising.

To his credit, however, one of Coleman's chief defenders, Jim McCloskey, was more than willing to take a hard (and public) look at how badly, and thoroughly, he had been duped. McCloskey's reflections are the centerpiece of Frankel's story, which makes for fascinating reading.

As for the Coleman case and the people who glommed onto it, I think the good citizens of Grundy, Virginia, the hardscrabble coal-mining town where the murder took place, have it figured out pretty well:
[Grundy residents] viewed Coleman's supporters as a powerful group of lawyers, activists and journalists who were blinded by their loathing of the death penalty and taken in by a clever psychopath. "They were trying to build this case for Roger's innocence, and they didn't care who they threw to the dogs," says Pat Hatfield, the victim of an earlier incident, in which Coleman had exposed himself and masturbated in front of her at the public library. "It didn't matter whose life was destroyed as long as they could save Roger."
Burden of Proof: Washington Post Magazine

Update: Good God, my younger readers do indeed make me feel old as Methuselah. After a few e-mailed inquiries about the title of this post, I am compelled to point out that once upon a time there was a singer-songwriter named Paul Simon, who penned a little ditty called Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard. And, see, Jim McCloskey is an unordained minister, and the Washington Post is owned by the same company that owns Newsweek, and... oh, dammit, never mind.

1 comment:

Barry said...

David, thanks for your kind words. I would've thought exactly the same thing (how can anyone not recognize that lyric?) but one of the maddening things about generation gaps by definition is that they're essentially unimaginable. On both sides.