Pubdate: Fri, 02 May 2003
Source: Shorthorn, The (TX Edu Arlington)
Address: UTA Student Publications, Box 19038, Arlington, TX 76019
Fax: (817)272-5009
Copyright: 2003 The Shorthorn.
Author:  Andy McMillen


Innocent people serve more time than the guilty who frame them

You're deciding whether to vacation in California this summer or work to
save money for the fall semester. Or, if you are graduating, you're
preparing to start your career or frantically looking for a job.

Even if things are a little tough, consider yourself lucky. Fifteen-year-old
Angel Daniel Villagrana, a freshman at Nogales High School in Arizona, may
be trying to decide if he will fight off his cellmate's unwanted sexual
advances with a crude "knife" and possibly die or kill, or if he will just
give in and live.

Angel faces 30 years in prison.

He was accused April 17 of taking part in the sale of one gram of cocaine to
an undercover officer and was charged as an adult.

One gram. Thirty years.

Since the man in the White House refuses to say whether he ever used the
white powder, it's logical to assume that he probably did. Yet he got
elected president of the United States.

Is there a disparity here?

Arizona may seem far away, but drug law injustice is nationwide. Texas is no

In the Panhandle town of Tulia, more than three dozen citizens -- all but
three of whom are black -- were falsely accused of drug possession by one
police officer, Tom Coleman. When they were arrested July 23, 1999, no drugs
or guns were found. No corroborating evidence was produced in any of the
cases, yet sentences of up to 90 years were handed down.

Ninety years.

Take a few minutes to imagine 90 years in a Texas prison.

Close your eyes and picture a man riding a horse with a shotgun and a rifle
pointed at you while you pick cotton. You need permission to use the
bathroom or to wipe the blood off your hands -- blood caused by the blisters
from the cotton plants. When you return to your bunk or cell after eight
hours or so in the South Texas sun, you get to listen to sex and gang talk
until you fall asleep. And don't sleep too soundly, or you might wake up
with a new "friend."

And remember, you're innocent.

Thirteen of Coleman's victims are still behind bars, even though the local
prosecutor has recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that the
cases be overturned.

Meanwhile, what about the guy who put them there? The police officer who
invented the whole sordid scam, set them up and lied against them in court
under oath?

After destroying a few dozen lives in Tulia, Coleman was "serving" as a law
enforcement officer in another Texas jurisdiction (isn't this a wonderful
system?) until recently indicted for perjury.

If you think this means justice is being done, think again. Aggravated
perjury carries a maximum 10-year penalty in Texas.

The people he set up got 90.

Coleman will serve 10 years. Maybe.

This is backward. Coleman should be in jail, and his victims should be
released, apologized to and compensated. The real tragedy, however, may be
the apathy.

That's Texas story No. 1.

Here's another, right in the neighborhood:

More than 15 months after filing 80 drug cases using billiard chalk and
Sheetrock as evidence (in lieu of any real illegal substances), former
Dallas police Senior Cpl. Mark Delapaz was charged this week with six
federal offenses of submitting false reports. Delapaz faces 10 years in
prison if convicted.

And those years would be in federal prison, considerably more comfortable
than the inferno of Texas Department of Corrections hellholes. Since January
2002, Delapaz has been on paid administrative leave while many of those he
falsely charged rotted in jails and prisons. This is fair?

Delapaz maintains his innocence, as did those he arrested.

Jaime Siguenza, one of four people whose rights were violated in the cases
invented by Delapaz, "expressed a mixture of dismay and relief when he heard
of the former officer's indictment," according to The Dallas Morning News.

"He compared Cpl. Delapaz's 10-year possible sentence to the 50 years he
(Siguenza) faced in prison before the false drug evidence became known," the
Morning News reported April 25.

But the greater issue to consider is this: Why do we condemn private
citizens to gulag-like prisons for possession of illegal substances (while
alcohol, just as deadly, is available at will) yet allow those who abuse
their public trust to face laughably lenient punishments?

Maybe it's time to toss out our drug laws. These laws are the cause of the
horrors suffered by the victims of Coleman, Delapaz and others. They will
continue while the brainwashing continues and the unworkable laws remain on
the books.

We study history in college, so why not apply the lesson of history? The
United States tried prohibition -- all alcohol was outlawed -- and succeeded
in creating Al Capone and assuring the success of organized crime.

Today's prohibition is creating equally tragic results.

It's time to repeal prohibition again.

-- Andy McMillen is a Spanish graduate student and a regular columnist for
The Shorthorn.