Pubdate: Sun, 07 Sep 2003
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2003 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Betsy Blaney
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


TULIA - Hog farmer Joe Moore was wrongly convicted of selling cocaine and 
sent to prison for 90 years.

He lost more than his freedom. He lost his livelihood and he lost his 
health, as his diabetes worsened while he was behind bars.

A high-profile legal battle discredited the accusing police officer and led 
to pardons for Moore and 34 others this summer. Some found bitterness in 
their return to Tulia. Many still struggle to rebuild.

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 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.

Finally word spread. An Amarillo lawyer and the Texas chapter of American 
Civil Liberties Union filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of one of 
those arrested. Then in late 2001, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund marshaled 
law firms to take up the defendants' plights.

That legal odyssey ended Aug. 22, when Gov. Rick Perry granted pardons to 
35 people prosecuted and the courts will eventually wipe clean all of their 
records. Twelve of them still in jail were freed in June after Perry signed 
a bill that called for their release.

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 31Z2 years of 20-year sentence. "I 
can always forgive, but I can't forget it."

Others are focused on putting the past four years behind them. Several who 
were drug users before their arrests received treatment in Abilene after 
their release to help them adjust to life on the outside.

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 aims to pursue a business management degree and own his own 
business, plans to attend Coleman's perjury trial this year. He said he 
carries 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."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom