Life After a Guilty Plea to False Charge

Chris L. Jenkins
November 29, 2011

They believed that their son was innocent but were afraid that Virginia’s penal system would grab hold of him and never let go.

So Cherri Dulaney and Edgar Coker Sr. told 15-year-old Edgar Jr. to plead guilty to raping a 14-year-old friend. Their court-appointed attorney told them that was better than risking adult charges and a lengthy prison term.

Two months after their decision, in November 2007, the girl admitted that she had lied.

The Cokers have been fighting ever since to rescue their son from the consequences. He served 17 months in a juvenile prison. He remains on the Virginia sex-offender registry, and the family moved to avoid harassment from neighbors.

Last month, Coker, now 20, was arrested during a Friday night football game at the Orange, Va., high school he graduated from after his release from juvenile prison. Unless they have permission from the school, convicted violent sex offenders are not permitted on school grounds. But Coker had received such permission, and he attended school there for more than a year before graduation.

“He can’t do something as simple as go out with his brothers and see a football game,” his mother said as she fought back tears during a recent interview from the family’s modest rambler in Mineral, Va.

Coker’s attorneys are working to have the conviction vacated in Stafford County, and the Virginia Supreme Court is expected to hear the case early next year. To his attorneys and other advocates, the case is about the dangers of ineffective counsel and about Virginia’s restrictive post-conviction laws, which make it extraordinarily difficult for people like Coker to get a retrial.