MAY GOD HAVE MERCY by John C. Tucker


A True Story of Crime and Punishment
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 Set in the mining country of Buchanan County, Va., a fast-paced synopsis of a case that received national attention: the conviction and execution of Roger Coleman for the 1981 murder of his sister-in-law, Wanda McCoy. The evidence of the investigation, writes the author, indicates detectives decided almost immediately that miner Roger Coleman was the prime suspect, though according to witnesses who saw Coleman on the night of the murder, the medical examiner's timeline did not allow for him to have committed the crime. Coleman, at age 22, had done time for attempted rape and was presumed one of only a handful of people whom Wanda might have admitted to the house. He was charged and jailed without bond. Later he was indicted on the basis of his prior record, the family connection, the apparent lack of forced entry at the crime scene, and less-than-conclusive blood and hair evidence. When the case went to trial, says Tucker, it was tilted dramatically in favor of the prosecution. Afterward, an appeal by death-row advocates for Coleman, claiming that he had not received effective assistance of counsel at trial (his court-appointed lawyer had little trial experience and none in death-penalty cases) was dismissed because the notice of appeal was filed a day late. And the murder under mysterious circumstances of a most important new witness who might have earned him a retrial doomed Coleman's chances of reversing his conviction. Tucker, who was a criminal defense attorney in Chicago, brings a lawyer's thoroughness to his telling of the story. Allowing the known facts to stand for themselves, drawing on the work of the Coleman's death-row lawyers, the author builds a credible case for his innocence. A timely account of a questionable but irreversible verdict in a time when the number of executions is rising. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-393-04032-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1997