Pubdate: Tue, 01 Apr 2003
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2003 Austin American-Statesman
Author: Betsy Blaney, The Associated Press


TULIA, Texas - Even if an appeals court orders new trials for dozens of 
people convicted in controversial drug busts, Swisher County officials will 
not prosecute any of them, one of the state's prosecutors says.

Rod Hobson, a special prosecutor assigned to help assist the county during 
court-ordered evidentiary hearings, made the promise Tuesday - hours after 
a judge recommended the drug convictions be overturned for 38 people 
prosecuted in a drug sting operation defense attorneys claimed was racially 
motivated. The judge also is recommending that new trials be ordered.

"If the (appeals court) sends them back, we'll dismiss them," Hobson said. 
"It would be foolish for us to go forward." The judge's recommendations 
came after several days of settlement discussions between prosecutors and 
defense attorneys. Terms of the settlement were not released Tuesday 
because the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must first sign off on the 
judge's recommendation.

One detail of the settlement, however, emerged shortly after the judge 
announced his recommendations. Swisher County commissioners unanimously 
approved a $250,000 payment to the defendants. The amount will be 
distributed based on how much time each person was imprisoned, defense 
attorney Ted Killory told the commissioners.

Mattie White, who had four of her children arrested and charged in the 
busts, said she was elated at the judge's recommendation. Two of her 
children remain in prison.

"That's the best step I ever heard," she said. "We've been praying for this 
for four years, and we haven't ever given up." Coleman, who was due to 
resume his testimony halted when the hearing adjourned March 21, was not in 
the courthouse. The arrests on charges of possessing and selling cocaine 
hinged on Coleman's uncorroborated testimony. He worked alone and used no 
audio or video surveillance.

Complaints by civil rights groups helped focus international attention on 
the Panhandle town of 5,000 midway between Lubbock and Amarillo. The 
arrests hit a large portion of the town's black population, which numbers 
only in the hundreds. Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart said in a 
statement that the judge's recommendation helps bring closure to years of 
dispute. "The agreement reached among the parties involved is not about 
guilt or innocence but is intended to end the controversy that has 
surrounded these cases," Stewart said in his statement.

It was unknown when the appeals court will issue its ruling on the judge's 
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