Pubdate: Tue, 01 Apr 2003
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Section: Local & State
Copyright: 2003 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Thom Marshall


Dear Tulia 13,

Good news. Although you don't need to pack your suitcases just yet, it 
looks like you finally may be set free.

I know I haven't written you since last summer, but I wanted to wait until 
there was something good to report. Also, I hope you don't mind my printing 
this letter here because it'll get delivered much quicker this way to all 
the different prisons across the state where you are being held.

Your lawyers probably already told all of you that the special judge who 
was brought in to review the evidence that landed you behind bars four 
years ago is going to recommend to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that 
you be released.

According to the story that broke on Tuesday, he will recommend that all 38 
cases based upon the word of a lone, itinerant, undercover drug task force 
cop be vacated. That includes the 13 of you still in prison. If the appeals 
court goes along with the recommendation, yours and all those other jury 
convictions and plea bargain arrangements will be tossed out the window.

More waiting ahead I talked to Troy Bennett, who is clerk of the Court of 
Criminal Appeals, to see how long it might take for the high judges in 
Austin to act on those recommendations out of the court in Tulia.

He said that officials working the cases at Tulia requested, on Tuesday, a 
time extension for turning in the considerable paperwork generated in 
recent days. Their deadline has been set for June 1. That means it could 
easily be another two months before the high judges will even begin to 
study these new court documents that bolster the lower court judge's decision.

So I asked Bennett whether, based on what he's observed in past cases, he 
thought you folks stood some chance of getting bonded out of prison right 
away. He considered that a long shot. Because we're not looking at a 
rubber-stamp deal, here. Sometimes the appeals court does not follow the 

The fellow who called me with the news is Will Harrell of the ACLU in 
Austin. He's one of several people who have put a great deal of time and 
effort into the search for some justice in your cases. He believes the 
appeals court will go along with the recommendation.

I do hope he is right. But I've got to be honest with you: Nothing about 
your predicament would surprise me at this point. Not after the way the 
state attorney general has ignored your situation. Not after the way the 
U.S. Department of Justice has put the investigation on indefinite hold. 
Not after the way the governor has refused to take any leadership role in 
setting you free.

Harrell sounded ecstatic when talking about how all of you likely will soon 
be set free. But he also is worried that people might say your sentences' 
getting reversed is proof the system works and so we don't need the new 
legislation he's been pulling for so hard.

If it becomes law, it would not allow anyone to be convicted on the 
uncorroborated word of one person, even if that person is an undercover cop.

I hope Harrell's worry proves groundless. How could anyone look at your 
situation and believe the system works fine as it is?

Evidence of broken system Your plight screams out in the loudest possible 
voice that the system is broken. Passing that law is just a start. Every 
drug task force in the country should now be examined for similar injustices.

How many others are we putting in prison with no evidence or bad evidence? 
We locked you up on the word of one tainted cop. We locked up people from 
Dallas when some cops passed off Sheetrock dust as cocaine. We still don't 
know how many people we've locked up from Houston using tainted evidence 
from a completely discredited crime lab.

You've been locked up for four years. Now part of the system says it was 
wrong, but another part says it'll get around to letting you out whenever 
it gets around to it.

It is pretty obvious that our old jalopy of a justice system needs a major 

It's left you stranded far too long.

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