Pubdate: Thu, 10 Apr 2003
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2003 The Dallas Morning News
Author: Betsy Blaney, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


A case being considered for rehearing by the Texas Court of Criminal 
Appeals could have a bearing on a judge's recommendation to the court that 
convictions be overturned and new trials granted for 38 mostly black 
defendants in the controversial Tulia drug sting.

In December the state's highest criminal court ruled 5-4 that a new claim 
of innocence, backed up with the evidence, outweighed a previous guilty 
plea by Wesley Ronald Tuley on an aggravated sexual assault charge in 
Dallas County. Tuley, who was freed in February, appealed after he learned 
that his accuser had recanted her testimony.

Dallas County prosecutors have requested the appeals court rehear the case.

The court had already determined that a defendant can appeal when new 
evidence contradicts a guilty verdict during trial.

In the Tulia cases, 27 of the 38 defendants prosecuted pleaded guilty and 
never heard testimony from investigator Tom Coleman, 43, the lone 
undercover agent in the operation whose testimony under oath, retired judge 
Ron Chapman said earlier this month, is "simply not credible." As agreed 
upon by prosecutors and defense attorneys, Chapman is recommending 
convictions in all 38 cases be overturned and new trials be granted.

Special Prosecutor Rod Hobson said that if new trials are ordered, the 
cases will be dismissed by Swisher County.

Attorneys for the Tulia defendants say the guilty pleas stemmed from 
lengthy prison sentences meted out for those first tried after Coleman's 
18-month undercover operation. The first Tulia defendant was sentenced to 
90 years.

"Our assertion is that the only basis for any of these charges is Tom 
Coleman's testimony," said Vanita Gupta, an attorney with the NAACP Legal 
Defense and Education Fund, Inc. "The grand jury indictments were based on 
Tom Coleman's testimony and thus there's no factual distinction between the 
trials and the guilty pleas."

The Court of Criminal appeals asked for the recent evidentiary hearings in 
Tulia to determine whether defendants were convicted solely on Coleman's 
word and whether the state failed to turn over information from Coleman's 
background that may have impeached his testimony.

During testimony, Coleman, who is no longer in law enforcement, was accused 
of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan and openly bigoted. Witnesses also 
testified that Coleman had possible mental problems, discipline problems, a 
bad temper, and in need of constant supervision. He told the court he and 
his friends used a racial epithet as a greeting, and he didn't consider it 
to be racist.

Additionally, in a 1979 case out of the Court of Criminal Appeals, which 
pertains to Coleman's background, the justices ruled that if prosecutors 
did not turn over exculpatory or impeachable evidence to the defense it is 
a "denial of due process" even in a guilty plea and "as a matter of law 
renders the plea involuntary."

Gary Udashen, a Dallas lawyer who specializes in appellate criminal law, 
said he believes the court won't change its December ruling. That likely 
would bode well for the recommendation Chapman made in the Tulia cases, he 

"I think the Court of Criminal Appeals will go along with the 
recommendation because it's the right thing to do," Udashen said.
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