In some states by law, in others by tradition, judges imposing a sentence of death complete the grim ritual with the words "May God have mercy on your soul."
In 1982, in Grundy, Virginia, a young miner named Roger Coleman was sentenced to death for the murder of his sister-in-law. Ten years later, the sentence was carried out, despite the extraordinary efforts of Kitty Behan, a brilliant and dedicated young lawyer who devoted two years of her life to gathering evidence of Coleman's innocence, evidence so compelling that media around the world came to question the verdict. The courts, ruling on technicalities, refused to hear the new evidence and witnesses. Finally, the governor of Virginia ordered a lie-detector test to be administered on the morning of Coleman's scheduled execution, and in a chair that to Coleman surely looked like nothing so much as an electric chair.
In John Tucker's telling, this story is an emotional and unforgettable roller-coaster ride from the awful night of the crime to the equally awful night of the execution. Perhaps it was not Roger Coleman whose soul was in need of God's mercy, but the judges, prosecutors, and politicians who procured his death.
On the evening of March 10, 1981, 19-year-old Wanda Fay McCoy, her head nearly severed from her body, bled to death on her bedroom floor. The small-town police who investigated the case quickly narrowed their focus on her brother-in-law, Roger Coleman. Their suspicions made sense: Wanda had been raped; Roger had once served time for sexual assault. The facts, at least superficially, all pointed to him as the killer. As the story unravels, though, the case seems less cut-and-dried, and the police's decision to focus so much of their energies on Coleman seems more and more a travesty. Yet, despite growing evidence of his innocence, Coleman was quickly tried, found guilty, and condemned to die. May God Have Mercy documents his long battle with the legal system and the ongoing efforts of his lawyers, as well as the media and numerous private citizens, to prove his innocence. John C. Tucker has written a chilling condemnation of politics as usual that is bound to challenge the assumptions of anyone who believes that the American justice system is concerned primarily with justice. Coleman's story is compelling, disturbing, and overwhelmingly frustrating. Even if you remember the case from its media coverage, you'll be shocked and horrified at this story and at the lack of concern, common sense, and basic humanity the American legal system can possess. --Lisa Higgins