Pubdate: Sat, 23 Aug 2003
Source: Victoria Advocate (TX)
Copyright: 2003 Victoria Advocate Publishing Company
Author: Betsy Blaney
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


TULIA - Gov. Rick Perry on Friday granted pardons to 35 people who were
convicted of drug charges based on the testimony of an undercover agent
later charged with perjury.

"Texans demand a justice system that is tough but fair," Perry said in a
statement. "I believe my decision to grant pardons in these cases is both
appropriate and just."

Perry said he was influenced by questions about the testimony of Tom
Coleman, the only undercover agent involved in the busts. In June, Perry
signed a bill allowing the release of the 12 Tulia defendants who were still
in prison.

"It feels good to finally be completely free," said Freddie Brookins Jr.,
who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison on Coleman's word. He was
released in June. His father called Friday's pardons "fantastic."

"We've been waiting for this for four years," Freddie Brookins Sr. said.

An attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which marshaled law firms in
New York and Washington to represent the defendants for free, said Perry did
the right thing.

"This is just really incredible news. This is what we saw the facts showed,"
said the lawyer, Vanita Gupta.

Coleman worked alone and used no audio or video surveillance to substantiate
drug buys he said he made from 46 people from Tulia, a small town of about
5,100 residents 60 miles north of Lubbock.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, asked by Perry to review the cases,
unanimously recommended the pardons last month.

Of the 46 people arrested in July 1999, 39 were black, which led civil
rights groups to question if the busts were racially motivated.

A judge this spring ruled that Coleman was "simply not a credible witness"
and recommended the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturn the convictions
of the 38 people prosecuted and order new trials.

Coleman was indicted for perjury in April in connection with testimony he
gave at evidentiary hearings this year. He faces a preliminary hearing next

Of those convicted but not pardoned, one is on deferred probation and two
were not eligible to seek pardons because of convictions on other charges.

Also Friday, two women who were indicted but never prosecuted after the drug
busts filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Amarillo against law
enforcement officials. Zuri Bossett and Tonya White said they were not in
Tulia at the time Coleman claimed he bought drugs from them.

The women sued Coleman, Swisher County and its sheriff, Larry Stewart,
prosecutor Terry McEachern and several officials with a narcotics task force
in Amarillo that worked with Coleman.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Josh