Pubdate: Mon,  8 Sep 2003
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2003 Associated Press
Aurhor: Betsy Blaney, Associated Press Writer
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


TULIA, Texas -- Hog farmer Joe Moore was wrongly convicted of selling 
cocaine and sentenced to serve 90 years in prison. He forfeited more than 
his freedom.

Moore said he lost his livelihood and his reputation. He also lost his 
health, as his diabetes worsened while he was behind bars.

A legal battle led to pardons for Moore and 34 others this summer after the 
police officer who accused the group was discredited. Some former inmates 
are still bitter; others are struggling to rebuild the pieces of their lives.

"I really want to get on with my life," the 60-year-old Moore said. "It's 
hard to know how I'm going to make a living. I've got nothing. I just leave 
it in the hands of the Lord."

Moore begins anew in this small Panhandle farming town of about 5,000 
residents where the testimony of undercover agent Tom Coleman put him and 
others in prison.

Coleman now faces perjury charges for allegedly lying during hearings in 
March ordered by the state's highest criminal appeals court to review some 
of the drug convictions.

Coleman testified at trials that he bought cocaine from dealers in Tulia, 
though he had no audio or video surveillance to back up his claims stemming 
from drug arrests he made in 1999.

Moore was one of the first of the Tulia defendants tried. After seeing the 
lengthy sentence he received, others chose to accept plea agreements for 
shorter ones.

The 46 arrested -- most of them black -- long argued their innocence but 
they initially had no voice potent enough to turn around public opinion. 
Their legal odyssey ended Aug. 22, when Gov. Rick Perry granted pardons to 
35 people and the courts will eventually wipe clean all their records. 
Twelve still jailed were freed in June.

Of the 11 other defendants, seven had their cases dismissed, one died, one 
was placed on probation and two others remain in jail on other charges.

For those who unjustly spent years behind bars, resentment and bitterness 

"I believe that anyone who had something to do with it should be punished," 
said Freddie Brookins Jr., who served 3 1/2 years of 20-year sentence. "I 
can always forgive but I can't forget it."

Others are focused on putting the past behind them. Several who were drug 
users before their arrests received treatment after their release to help 
them adjust to life on the outside. They now live in a halfway house and 
have found jobs.

Failing to move forward risks even more loss, said Kizzie White, 26, a 
mother of two. Her life was on hold long enough; her goal now is to become 
a nurse, she said.

"I'm just glad it's all over with and that justice prevailed," said White, 
who is expecting her third child in the spring. "It feels so good to go 
where I want to go, eat when and where I want to."

Brookins, who wants to pursue a business management degree and someday own 
his own business, plans to attend Coleman's perjury trial later this year. 
He said he carries some bitterness. But that feeling is mixed with hope for 
his future. Brookins and his wife Terri recently found out she is pregnant.

"I can't just dwell on being angry," he said. "If I stay upset about it I 
can't go on with my life."

Moore said he's disappointed more than bitter.

Information about Coleman's past, which included an arrest on theft charges 
from a previous job and his use of racist epithets, should have been given 
to jurors, he said.

Coleman; Terry McEachern, the district attorney who prosecuted him; and 
Judge Ed Self, who presided at his trial, "thought they were God," Moore said.

Now that he's free, his dream is to regain his hog farm. He currently lives 
in an apartment in Tulia.

"I'm a country boy, and that would make my day," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom