DESPITE HIS UNSWERVING faithfulness to the cause, McCloskey is not infallible. In 1988, he took on the case of Roger Keith Coleman, who was on Virginia's death row for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law. Before his execution in 1992, Time magazine put Coleman on its cover with the headline: "This Man Might Be Innocent. This Man Is Due to Die." Coleman shared his final meal with McCloskey, who vowed to press his case to the end. He successfully petitioned Virginia Gov. Mark Warner in January of this year to reexamine the DNA evidence, but when the results came back, they showed that Coleman had deceived everyone with his protests of innocence. The news, McCloskey said, "was like a kick in the stomach."
Still, the stream of alleged injustices never seems to slow, and McCloskey's passion and persistence are so admirable that many use the word saint when accounting for his successes against a usually intractable criminal-justice system. McCloskey, on the other hand, worries about how his obsessiveness on behalf of the wrongfully imprisoned might have compromised his spirituality. Freeing dozens of prisoners comes with a cost perhaps greater, though harder to measure, than never marrying and never fathering children.