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



I didn't intend to write to you again before you get out of prison, but
since you still are there I thought you might want an update on a couple of
bills that could help keep what happened to you from happening to others.

Senate Bill 1045 would create a commission to investigate the causes of
wrongful criminal convictions in Texas and recommend how future wrongful
convictions can be prevented.

Wrongful convictions have made a lot of news since you got locked up four
years ago. A couple of big ones that followed the Tulia Drug Bust were the
Dallas Sheetrock Scandal and the Houston Crime Lab Mess.

Lawmakers talk about reform No one knows how many wrongful convictions may
have occurred in cases involving one or two people at a time. Those don't
attract much media attention or public scrutiny. But we have reason to
suspect they happen because that same drug task force undercover cop whose
discredited testimony put you in prison worked undercover jobs in some other
towns after Tulia.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said that the interim Innocence
Commission created by 1045 would be composed of nine members -- legislators,
members of the judiciary and law professors -- and that it could help
"restore confidence in the Texas criminal justice system."

Senate Bill 515 could have helped do that, too. It would have required that
juries be given special instructions in cases that involve uncorroborated
testimony. However, the word from Austin Thursday night was that the bill
lacked enough votes and wouldn't make it.

A stronger House bill would have required corroboration, but it was one of
the casualties when the Democrat quorum busters went to Oklahoma in order to
stop Republican redistricting efforts.

Actually, supporters of the reform measure say it is odd that our Texas law
has not required corroboration of testimony all along, considering that has
been a basic foundation stone in justice systems going back to biblical

I can't help but wonder how the 13 of you feel when you read something about
the lawmakers in Austin debating what should be done about the injustices
that the system rained down on you, and that it continues raining down on
you every minute you spend locked up. Are you convinced they are sincere?

The Senate approved a bill by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, that would
permit a Swisher County judge to release you from prison on bond while the
Court of Criminal Appeals ponders your cases. The House is expected to vote
on it next week.

That bill obviously spurred Gov. Rick Perry to make a move. After ignoring
your plight for so long, he finally asked the Board of Pardons and Paroles
to review all 38 convictions that resulted from the controversial and
discredited drug bust in 1999, and to recommend whether pardons, commutation
of sentences, or some other clemency action is appropriate.

Prison doors yet to be opened So Austin is full of powerful politicians who
know that what happened to you was wrong. These are intelligent folks who
figured out how to win elections. They are talking about doing something,
but not one of them has yet managed to turn a key and set you free.

It was almost eight weeks ago that Judge Ron Chapman concluded an
evidentiary hearing and said he was recommending all 38 convictions from the
Tulia bust be vacated because the undercover cop responsible, Tom Coleman,
"is simply not a credible witness." (Coleman since has been indicted on
perjury charges.)

Chapman's recommendation should have resulted in a quick end to your four
years of unjust imprisonment.

That hearing ended on April 1. Every time the hot sun sets on another day,
you must all lie back on the bunks in your cells and wonder when the
system's cruel April Fools' joke on you finally will end.

Yours truly,

Thom Marshall
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