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Judge Denies New Hearing for Condemned Virginia Inmate

May 13, 1992

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) _ A federal judge denied a new hearing for a death row inmate scheduled to die next week for raping and murdering his 19-year-old sister-in-law.

U.S. District Judge Glen Williams said he wasn’t impressed by Roger Keith Coleman’s new claims of innocence.

″All of Coleman’s evidence, which he claims is new and shows his actual innocence, does nothing more than attack the credibility of witnesses and evidence at the original trial,″ Williams said in a ruling filed late Tuesday.

Coleman’s attorney, Kathleen Behan, said she’ll appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

″I’m somewhat surprised that (the judge) made many, many credibility judgments without giving the witnesses an opportunity to come forward in court,″ Behan said.

Coleman is scheduled to die in the electric chair May 20 for the 1981 rape and murder of Wanda McCoy.

Death penalty opponents have used his case to attack a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that restricts appeals by death row inmates, even when there’s new evidence. The case has drawn widespread attention; Coleman’s on the cover of this week’s Time magazine.

Coleman, 33, has consistently maintained his innocence. If his federal appeals fail, his last hope rests with Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who has commuted two death row inmates’ sentences to life in prison and allowed five executions.

In her request for a new hearing, Behan cited affidavits from witnesses who say a former neighbor of Ms. McCoy has bragged about committing the crime.

Behan said the people came forward after Teresa Horn died of an apparent drug overdose in March, a day after telling a television reporter that the other man confessed to the crime.

And the mother-in-law of Roger Matney, Coleman’s cellmate who testified at trial that Coleman confessed to the crime, said in a statement that he had recanted his testimony, Behan said.

In his ruling, the judge pointed to DNA tests requested by Coleman that show he is among only 0.2 percent of the population that could have committed the crime.

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