Coker exoneration

Edgar Coker Jr. (center) is shown surrounded by his legal team following a hearing in January 2012 before the Virginia Supreme Court.

A Stafford County circuit judge has vacated the conviction of a Mineral man falsely accused of rape in 2007.

Edgar Coker Jr., who was convicted of rape as a 15 year old, will no longer have to register as a sex offender, according to an order released by Judge Jane Roush on Monday. Roush also said Coker’s original defense was “not reasonably competent.”

A 14-year-old acquaintance accused Coker of raping her in 2007. On the advice of an attorney, Coker and his parents took a plea deal to avoid a long prison sentence in an adult facility. Two months after they entered their plea, the girl admitted she had lied.

The family secured Coker’s early release from juvenile prison, but his name remained on the sex offender list, and they say they were harassed by neighbors.

The family went through several attorneys before coming to the University of Virginia School of Law, where the Innocence Project and the Child Advocacy Clinic took up his case, which went before the Supreme Court of Virginia.

In 2009, Coker’s attorneys filed for a writ of habeas corpus — a petition for release from wrongful detention — while on parole. A Stafford County judge dismissed the suit, so Coker appealed to the state Supreme Court. 

A 2012 ruling by the court cleared the way for Coker to sue the state Department of Juvenile Justice to overturn his conviction. Roush’s decision put an end to the six-year ordeal.

Dierdre Enright, director of investigation for the Innocence Project Clinic, criticized the lower level courts, which she said “refused to acknowledge the merits” of the case despite the fact that the alleged victim had recanted.

“There are very few people who could have afforded to litigate this case for six years, which emphasizes the importance of law school clinics and organizations that represent clients for free,” Enright said in a news release from the law school.

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