Pubdate: Wed, 23 Apr 2003
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2003 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Thom Marshall
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


If someone makes a movie about the 1999 Tulia drug bust, Gary Gardner said, 
it has to be done as a comedy.

This outspoken 57-year-old farmer and crop-duster is pretty much the fellow 
who got the justice ball rolling in Tulia, after he saw how the drug bust 
was conducted and how those arrested were being treated.

While Tulia is a small town, any movie about the drug bust would need a 
pretty large cast, considering there were 46 people arrested and 38 
convictions -- all based on the word of one undercover cop. And considering 
there were about a dozen law firms, mostly from Washington, New York City 
and California, that donated about a million bucks worth of time and 
expenses to get those convictions overturned.

Gardner said he enjoyed meeting those big-city lawyers and that he believes 
Tulia "was the adventure of a lifetime for them. They've never seen or 
dealt with people like me. Everybody in Swisher County is larger than life. 
Everybody's a cartoon character. I'm a cartoon character."

Laying down a foundation Before the legion of lawyers came to Tulia, 
Gardner had helped to put down some pretty good foundation stones. He did a 
whole lot of digging into the facts. He educated himself on pertinent legal 
aspects by driving 90 miles to the law school library in Lubbock the first 
couple of years before learning about an Internet site where the same 
information could be found. He wrote a 150-page writ for one of the defendants.

A man who grows up working land in the Panhandle country, fighting the wind 
and the cold and the dry, develops a special degree of determination. 
Something needs doing, he figures out how he can do it. May not be like 
anyone else does it, but if he can make it work.

Well, like when Gardner was working as a mechanic over in Amarillo, after 
going there to attend junior college for about six months. He said he was 
ready to get married but didn't often have an opportunity to meet girls in 
that job and felt that he couldn't make much of an impression because of 
the sweat and grime that went with that line of work.

So he joined the highway patrol. Spent six months in training. Got 
stationed in the nearby town of Canadian. Looked pretty good in that 
uniform and patrol car and, sure enough, on Jan. 1, 1970, he got married 
and resigned.

So in 1999, when he saw how drug-busted people were being treated, and how 
the charges were based on the word of one lone, itinerant lawman working 
undercover for the regional narcotics task force, Gardner began to research 
and write letters and talk to reporters and to legislators. And he has kept 
it up for four years.

One thing he's noticed through it all, he said Tuesday, is how so many 
little pieces had to fall into place, how one link sometimes unexpectedly 
led to another in the unusual chain of events.

For example, because of some opinions expressed in a letter he had written 
to the local newspaper, the original judge in the case was recused from the 
pivotal evidentiary hearing held a few weeks ago. Gardner said the judge's 
letter was responding to a letter Gardner had written to the paper.

The pinch-hitting judge found that the undercover cop's testimony was so 
unreliable that he is recommending all 38 convictions be overturned -- even 
those of people who had been coerced into accepting plea bargains.

Work is actually paying off Thirteen people remain locked up, waiting for 
the paperwork to get to the Court of Criminal Appeals, where the high 
judges will decide whether to follow the recommendation.

Meanwhile, a measure known as the Tulia Bill is being considered by our 
lawmakers in Austin. If it passes, no one could be convicted on the 
uncorroborated word of a single undercover cop. Also, an amendment to the 
budget bill would eliminate funding for all the state's narcotics task forces.

Gardner said that what he's been working for is just about accomplished, 
and after all the people finally are released and the convictions 
officially overturned, then maybe someone will make a movie.

"It could be a real good show, too," he said. "Mixing comedy and tragedy. 
Laughing and crying at the same time."
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