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Texas Compensation Bill Heads to Governor's Desk

Posted: May 14, 2009 5:29 am

The Texas House passed an amended bill today to improve the state law compensating the wrongfully convicted after their release. The new bill, which would become law with a signature from Gov. Rick Perry, pays exonerees $80,000 per year they spent in prison for crimes they didn’t commit and includes credit for tuition at state colleges and universities. The bill would also pay $25,000 per year an exoneree spent outside of prison on parole for a crime they didn't commit - a first in the nation. An earlier version of the bill also included health care, but that was removed in a Senate amendment.

The bill would represent a significant increase in compensation paid to the exonerated, from the current law, which provides $50,000 per year. Texas is one of 27 states with exoneree compensation laws, is yours one?

The legislation is named for Timothy Cole, who was posthumously exonerated this year after DNA proved that he had been wrongfully convicted in 1986. He died of a heart attack in prison in 1999 and DNA testing finally proved his innocence in 2008.

"It is a landmark bill," (Innocence Project Co-Director Barry) Scheck said. "For a fixed damage award, it's the highest in the country."
Read more about today’s developments. (Associated Press 5/14/09)
CBS Evening News reported on Cole’s case and the Timothy Cole Compensation Act on Saturday:
In 1985, a serial rapist attacked five women near Texas Tech University. Among his victims was then 20-year old sophomore Michelle Mallin.

"It's constantly in my mind all the time," Mallin said recently.

Cole, a 25-year-old college student was convicted, largely because Mallin identified his picture in a photo lineup.

"I honestly thought it looked like him," she said.

Read the full story and watch the video here. (CBS Evening News, 5/9/09)

Tags: Timothy Cole, Exoneree Compensation



Reform Bills Fail to Pass in Texas

Posted: June 2, 2009 3:41 pm

Several bills intended to prevent wrongful convictions in Texas were left unpassed when the Texas legislature ended its session yesterday. Although Gov. Rick Perry recently signed an improvement to the state law compensating the exonerated, several bills addressing the causes of wrongful convictions didn’t make it that far.

Proposed laws included an expansion to DNA testing access and reforms requiring recorded interrogation and improved eyewitness identification procedures. These reforms have been proven around the country to prevent wrongful convictions and to help law enforcement agencies apprehend the real perpetrators of crimes.

Another reform that wasn’t passed yesterday would have made posthumous pardons possible in cases like that of Tim Cole, who died in prison in 1999 while serving for a crime he didn’t commit.

His conviction relied heavily on mistaken identification by the victim, who earlier this year came out supporting efforts to clear Cole's name.
His family described an emotional welcome from legislators in February. Cole's mother, Ruby Session and his youngest brother, Cory, spent months lobbying for the reforms - Cory logged 14,000 miles and three blown tires as he traveled from Fort Worth to Austin to testify and lobby.

"We had everything in place," Cory said. "We really did have it, and it would have been sweeping changes."

Read the full story here. (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 06/02/09)
And Innocence Project of Texas Policy Director Scott Henson wrote on his blog Grits for Breakfast about his disappointment that the state may have to wait two years for these critical reforms.
We didn't need more study by the Legislature on this issue, we needed action. Eyewitness ID errors make up 80% of DNA exoneration cases and the Court of Criminal Appeals' Criminal Justice Integrity Unit said it should be the Legislature's highest priority for preventing false convictions. But unless the issue is added to a call in a special session, at least two more years will pass before the Lege can begin to rectify the problem.

That's inexcusable. It's not okay for the Legislature to know that innocent people are being convicted under the statutes they've written and simply decline to prevent it.

Read Henson’s post here. (Grits for Breakfast, 06/01/09)
New York is in dire need of similar reforms, and we asked supporters in the state yesterday to reach out to lawmakers urging them to ensure that New York State passes these critical measures before the end of the session. If you’re in New York, send a copy here.

If you’re outside of New York, we ask you to reach out to your lawmakers to tell them reforms to prevent wrongful convictions are important to you. Find out about the laws in your state here and then find your representative’s contact information here.

Tags: Timothy Cole



Will Texas Legislators Return for Innocence Reforms?

Posted: June 9, 2009 5:45 pm

Texas Gov. Rick Perry told reporters this afternoon that the state legislature will definitely have a special session this summer to deal with “a number of really good pieces of legislation.” Perry said that among the pending legislation that should be addressed is a bill that would have given him the power to posthumously pardon Tim Cole, who was exonerated ten years after he died in prison while serving for a crime he didn’t commit.

Texas lawmakers ended their session last week with several critical reforms addressing wrongful convictions still on the table. Although an improvement to exoneree compensation was passed and signed by Perry this year, bills requiring recorded interrogation and improved eyewitness identification were stalled by legislative maneuvering.

Read today’s update here. (Dallas Morning News, 06/09/09)

Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole



Friday Roundup: Hoping for Justice

Posted: July 17, 2009 4:46 pm

Several stories in the media this week examine the legal limbo many defendants face while seeking to clear their names – and the uphill battle faced by others to get their day in court.

At a hearing next Tuesday in Michigan, Davontae Sanford will seek to withdraw his guilty plea in a case involving four 2007 murders. Sanford was 16 years old – and read at a third-grade level – when he signed a confession he says he couldn’t read. Another man has now said he was a hit man and committed the murders alone.

In Texas, Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen are awaiting word on whether they will be retried in a multiple murder they say they didn’t commit. DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene recently excluded both men, and they were released pending a reinvestigation. Scott has a hearing scheduled from August 12, and the Austin Chronicle this week ran an in-depth investigation and update on the case.

Also in Texas, the debate continues over the question of whether Gov. Rick Perry has the power to grant Timothy Cole a posthumous pardon based on DNA evidence proving his innocence of a 1985 rape.

The New York Justice Task Force held its first meeting last week to begin the process of evaluating the causes of wrongful convictions in the state and recommending reforms. State Assemblyman Joe Lentol, a member of the task force, said: “It is our profound belief that we can truly free our criminal justice system of wrongful convictions. It is vital that the public trust that we, the state, are locking up the truly guilty. When dealing with people’s lives, it is essential that we act with precision,” Lentol said. “And as we all know; when an innocent person is in prison, the real criminal is still walking the streets.”

A citizens’ review committee held its final meeting in the case of Kalvin Smith, who says he was wrongfully convicted of attacking a woman in 1997. The committee will present its findings to prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Alternet reported this week on the benefits and risks of collecting DNA profile information from everyone arrested for felonies. The Innocence Project position on DNA databases is here.

In an editorial today, the Dallas Morning News called for state and federal oversight of forensic science to prevent wrongful convictions caused by faulty forensics.

The Innocence Project continued to advocate for federal forensic reforms this week as well. For a roundup of forensics news from around the country, visit the Just Science news page.

Tags: Timothy Cole



Ten Years Later, a Texas Family Seeks a Posthumous Pardon

Posted: December 3, 2009 3:05 pm

Ten years ago this week, Timothy Cole died in a Texas prison while serving a 25-year sentence for a crime DNA now proves he didn’t commit. In an op-ed this week in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Cole’s brother Cory D. Session, Sr., writes that his brother deserves a posthumous pardon, fully clearing his name. Session writes:

This year, (Cole) became the first person to be posthumously exonerated, thanks to state District Judge Charlie Baird.

In many of the letters Tim wrote from prison after being convicted of a rape he didn’t commit, he mentioned three things that he longed for — vindication, exoneration and a full pardon from the governor.

The quest for the pardon continues.

On July 1, 2009, Tim’s 49th birthday, Gov. Rick Perry said that he does not have the power to pardon the dead. Perry said he needed a constitutional amendment because of a several-decades-old opinion from former state Attorney General Waggoner Carr that prevents him from doing so. We await a modern opinion from the current attorney general, Greg Abbott.
Read the full op-ed here. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 12/1/09)
Also marking the anniversary of his death this week, the Texas Tech University School of Law yesterday announced a scholarship in Cole’s name that will support the studies of aspiring law students. Cole was a Texas Tech student in 1985 when he was arrested for a rape he didn’t commit.

The scholarship fund was started with a $100,000 endowment, which included funds donated by Lubbock attorney Kevin Glasheen and Innocence Project of Texas Chief Counsel Jeff Blackburn.

Read more. (KCBD, 12/2/09)

Tags: Timothy Cole



Texas Governor Can Issue Posthumous Pardon

Posted: January 8, 2010 5:01 pm

An opinion issued yesterday by the Texas Attorney General opens the door for Gov. Rick Perry to grant a posthumous pardon for Timothy Cole, who was exonerated through DNA testing a decade after he died in prison.

Cole was convicted in 1986 of a rape in Lubbock, Texas, that he didn’t commit. Although he fought to clear his name, his requests for DNA testing we repeatedly rejected or ignored. In 1999, he died of a heart attack in a Texas prison. He was 39 years old.

A decade later, his family’s efforts to secure DNA testing on his behalf finally bore fruit. The Innocence Project of Texas secured DNA testing on his behalf. The Innocence Project joined as co-counsel  and Cole was cleared at an unprecedented posthumous hearing in 2009. The issue of a pardon remained unresolved, however, until now.

Perry said he looks forward to pardoning Cole:  

"I hope the Board of Pardons and Paroles will act swiftly in sending a recommendation to my desk so that justice can finally be served," the governor said. Under state law, he can only grant clemency if the board recommends it.

Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 01/08/2010)
Read more about Timothy Cole’s case.

Tags: Timothy Cole



Timothy Cole Officially Pardoned

Posted: March 1, 2010 3:30 pm

UPDATE: Today, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed the official pardon for Timothy Cole, marking the first posthumous pardon in Texas history. 

In a statement, Perry said: “I have been looking forward to the day I could tell Tim Cole’s mother that her son’s name has been cleared for a crime he did not commit,” Gov. Perry said. “The State of Texas cannot give back the time he spent in prison away from his loved ones, but today I was finally able to tell her we have cleared his name, and hope this brings a measure of peace to his family.”

Read more here.

Original post:

Timothy Cole was wrongfully convicted of rape more than two decades ago and died in prison in 1999, at the age of 39.  Last year, DNA testing proved his innocence, and now the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is recommending that he be fully pardoned.  If the governor follows through, Cole’s case will be the state's first posthumous pardon.

On Friday, the board notified the Innocence Project of Texas that it voted to recommend clemency. The board forwarded its decision to Gov. Rick Perry for his signature. In an e-mail to The Associated Press on Saturday, Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle wrote, "Gov. Perry looks forward to pardoning Tim Cole pending the receipt of a positive recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles."

Years after Cole’s death, an investigation by the Innocence Project of Texas led to DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene. The test results proved Cole’s innocence and implicated another man, Jerry Wayne Johnson, who had begun writing letters in 1995 confessing to the crime. Last year, the Innocence Project served as co-counsel at an unusual court hearing to clear Cole’s name after his death, and a judge declared him innocent.

Cory Session, who has been fighting to clear his brother's name for years, said he anticipates that the governor will sign Cole's pardon in March during a ceremony in Fort Worth. Session said he hopes that his brother’s case helps people understand that just because people come into court underfunded and underrepresented, it does not necessarily mean that they are guilty. "The question is: How many more Tim Coles are out there?" he told the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

Last year, the Texas Legislature passed the Tim Cole Act, increasing compensation to people who have been wrongfully convicted from $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of imprisonment.

Eyewitness misidentification and unvalidated forensic science led to Cole’s arrest and wrongful conviction when he was a 26-year-old Army veteran studying business at Texas Tech in 1985. The victim in Timothy’s case, Michele Mallin, has since come forward to raise awareness about misidentifications, forensic science reform and wrongful convictions. Mallin has joined Cole’s family in working to posthumously exonerate him.

In an op-ed piece in the Houston Chronicle last year, Mallin urged Congress to create a federal entity to strengthen forensic science nationwide. “I put my faith in the criminal justice system, and it failed me,” she wrote, “I have learned a great deal over the last year -- about myself, about Cole and about our system of justice. One of the most troubling things I've learned is that juries often hear evidence that is not as solid as it sounds.”

Learn more about unvalidated and improper science – and sign the petition calling on Congress to take action – here.

Read more on Timothy Cole’s case here.

Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole, Exoneree Compensation



After Posthumous Pardon in Texas, a Resolve to Help Fix the System

Posted: March 2, 2010 4:00 pm

This week, Timothy Cole became the first person in Texas to be exonerated and fully pardoned posthumously as a result of DNA testing. The heartbreaking case begs the question: How many others are there, and how can they be prevented?

DNA testing more than two decades after Cole’s wrongful conviction finally cleared him in 2008 and pointed to convicted rapist Jerry Wayne Johnson, who had already confessed to the crime in letters to court officials, as well as other rapes dating back several years.

A year ago, in an unprecedented legal move, Cole's family and lawyers appeared in an Austin courtroom in pursuit of a posthumous ruling to clear his name. According to advocates for the wrongfully convicted, the strategy was unique in Texas and rare in the U.S.  The Innocence Project served as co-counsel with the Innocence Project of Texas in that hearing. A judge declared Cole innocent, and he was exonerated.

On March 1, 2009 Texas Governor Rick Perry fully pardoned Cole. The development gives comfort to his family, but it is also a painful reminder of an innocent man’s life lost.

Cole’s mother said the pardon was a long time coming.

"I am so happy," Ruby Session, Cole's mother, said from her home in Burleson. "I just know that Tim is up there smiling."

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to recommend the posthumous pardon for innocence.

Under state law, Perry had to wait for the board's recommendation before he could sign the pardon."There was overwhelming evidence. It was very clear that he was wrongly imprisoned," Perry said after a campaign event in San Antonio.

He called Session to tell her the news.

"It was really awesome," the governor said, adding that he and Session have formed a warm relationship over the past year or so.

Cole's family is eligible for state recompense, which amounts to just over $1 million based on his 13 years of wrongful incarceration

Read the full Dallas Morning News story.

Texas leads the country with 40 wrongful convictions that have been overturned by DNA testing—only half of the exonerated in Texas received compensation for time spent behind bars. 

Eyewitness misidentification, which contributed to Cole’s wrongful conviction, is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.  Faulty forensic science also played a role in Cole’s wrongful conviction. Eyewitness misidentification was a factor in 33 of Texas’s cases and unvalidated or improper forensic science contributed to 17 of the wrongful convictions.

A growing number of Texas legislators, led by State Senator Rodney Ellis (who also serves as chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors) are determined to improve the state’s criminal justice system to prevent more wrongful convictions.

Ellis said more work remains to be done to guard against similar situations, such as pushing to require every law enforcement agency in Texas to have written eyewitness identification procedures based on best practices.
“While this is the first posthumous pardon in Texas,” Ellis said in a statement, “we have a long way to go if we are going to make sure it is the last.”

Read the full Houston Chronicle story.

Cole’s family said they will continue working to make sure other people don’t suffer the same injustice he did.
During the 2009 Legislature, Cole's prom night picture was posted at legislative committee hearings as relatives traveled repeatedly to Austin on behalf of bills designed to correct flaws in the state's criminal justice system. Even amid her euphoria over the pardon announcement, Ruby Session said there is still much to do.

"We will be doing this work as long as I'm able," said Session, who is scheduled to undergo surgery this week for an arterial aneurysm. "We're on the forefront of a new day in the criminal justice system."

Read the full Star-Telegram story.

Read more about Texas exonerees here.

Coverage of Cole’s pardon:

Houston Chronicle (3/1/10)

BBC News (3/2/10)

BBC News (3/2/10)

Fort Worth Star Telegram (3/1/10)

Associated Press (3/2/10)

AOL News (3/2/10)

Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole



Friday Roundup: Seeking Freedom and Reform

Posted: March 5, 2010 5:45 pm

An editorial in the San Antonio Express News says that it took too long to clear Timothy Cole’s name and that there is need for further reforms in Texas.  The Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions is in the process of conducting a year-long review of the Texas justice system. Its recommendations will go to the Legislature for the 2011 session.

On Thursday, Troy Bradford of Ohio said he was innocent of a series of brutal burglaries that he was convicted of over a year ago. With no physical evidence against him, Bradford appealed the conviction, questioning the method by which the witness identification was obtained.  He reached out to the Ohio Innocence Project, which asked prosecutors to test a fingerprint found at one of the scenes. The county prosecutor released the results of the fingerprint analysis Thursday. Two of the comparisons are not a match, and a third one has not yet been analyzed.  Local prosecutors said they have no plans to reopen the case.

A Houston judge declared the death penalty unconstitutional yesterday and granted a motion filed in a capital case seeking to have the court find that Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 37.071 "violates the protections afforded to the Accused by the 8th and 14th Amendments . . . and that the option to sentence the Accused to die for a crime that he did not commit should be precluded as a sentencing option."

Wisconsin Innocence Project Co-Director Keith Findley is calling for a new jury in client Terry Vollbrecht’s murder trial.  Vollbrecht has served 20 years of a life sentence for the murder of Angela Hackl in Sauk County over two decades ago. An investigator for the state Public Defender's office admitted to not following up on several leads in the original investigation which implicated other people in the crime.

Tags: Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin, Timothy Cole



“A Plea for Justice”

Posted: September 2, 2010 3:36 pm

Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole



Reducing Wrongful Convictions in Texas

Posted: September 7, 2010 5:27 pm

While the work of the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel represents a significant step forward for criminal justice reform in Texas, Ellis and Session write that reforms are still needed, including improving  eyewitness identification procedures, mandatory electronic recording of custodial interrogations and access to post-conviction DNA testing. They also call for the formation of a “fully functioning” Texas Forensic Science Commission.

Now the ball is in the Legislature's court. We call on the Legislature and the next governor to make the reliability and integrity of our criminal justice system a top priority in the coming session - fairness and justice shouldn't be partisan issues.

Read the full editorial.

Learn more about DNA exonerations in Texas.

Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole



Family Members of the Wrongfully Convicted in Texas Seek Answers

Posted: October 8, 2010 12:40 pm

The family and lawyers who examined the case have blamed flawed eyewitness procedures and tunnel vision in the investigation by Lubbock police that narrowed in on Cole as a suspect, despite having the actual rapist in custody. The letter sent to city officials Wednesday said police framed Cole.

Holton, the police chief, supported the pursuit of a pardon for Cole earlier this year. But officials have said the procedures and practices that sent Cole to prison have long since changed, and rehashing the circumstances served no purpose but to build the foundation for a lawsuit.

The family has called for the Police Department to discuss and disclose how police settled on Cole as the family members push for investigative reforms to prevent the mistakes that sent him to jail. Members have lobbied the Legislature with the Innocence Project of Texas to change eyewitness procedures and other police actions common to wrongful convictions.

Read the full op-ed.

Read the Innocence Project of Texas' letter to the Mayor.

Read another op-ed about unvalidated forensics in Texas from yesterday's San Antonio Express-News

Tags: Timothy Cole



Cornelius Dupree and Tim Cole's Brother Plead for Eyewitness Identification Reform in Texas

Posted: January 10, 2011 5:36 pm

One small but important thing that the Legislature did last session was to create the Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions to investigate the causes of, and ways to prevent, wrongful convictions.

The most important recommendation of the Tim Cole Advisory Panel was to reform the state's eyewitness identification procedures. We know from personal experience how mistaken eyewitness identifications can ruin people's lives. It is the greatest cause of wrongful convictions in Texas, accounting for more than 85 percent of DNA exonerations. The Tim Cole Advisory Panel recommended that all law enforcement agencies adopt written eyewitness identification procedures based on science and best practices. The report also recommended that to prevent false confessions, the state should adopt a mandatory electronic recording policy for custodial interrogations in high-level felonies.

Reforming eyewitness identification procedures will cost nothing, but could improve the dependability of our justice system, prevent us from destroying numerous innocent lives, and save the state millions in reduced spending on compensating the wrongfully convicted.

Read the full op-ed.

Read about eyewitness misidentification as a cause of wrongful conviction and reforms to prevent misidentifications.

Tags: Timothy Cole



The Best Work a Prosecutor Could Do?

Posted: October 12, 2011 4:10 pm

In 2010, the Innocence Project sought a rare Court of Inquiry proceeding because it was one of the only vehicles left to enable the Texas legal system to realize the mistake that every credible fire expert had identified. All other opportunities for official government recognition had failed.

It says volumes about the TCDAA that stopping a legal inquiry into a possible wrongful execution was considered the most exemplary act of professionalism in the public interest by a Texas prosecutor last year.

Our legal system relies on prosecutors to enable justice in criminal cases. Theirs is an incredibly difficult job, requiring hard work, an open mind and sound judgment while considering some of the most terrible acts in our society. This demands that prosecutors perform distinguished acts every day: seeking convictions in serious cases, ensuring that only appropriate charges are pursued and dismissing cases where they feel that the evidence does not support a guilty finding. 

Reasonable people can disagree about whether or not a Court of Inquiry is the proper venue to explore the questions of a wrongful conviction – even if a previous Court of Inquiry resulted in the posthumous exoneration of Timothy Cole, and the legislative creation of a Timothy Cole Advisory Panel to prevent wrongful convictions.

By recognizing Thompson for the stopping of the Willingham Court of Inquiry proceeding, TCDAA demeaned the work of all Texas prosecutors.   Surely more important – and more difficult – work was done by many Texas prosecutors – including, likely, Thompson himself – in the last year.

Tags: Timothy Cole, Cameron Todd Willingham



NBC Spotlights Police Lineup Reform

Posted: April 4, 2012 4:30 pm

Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole



Tune-In: BET Series "Vindicated" Profiles Eight Exonerees

Posted: December 3, 2012 4:25 pm

Tags: Herman Atkins, Charles Chatman, Timothy Cole, Thomas Haynesworth, Darryl Hunt



A Human Tragedy: Exploring the Stories of 24 Exonerees

Posted: January 24, 2013 6:00 pm

Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole, Michael Morton