Pubdate: Mon, 16 Jun 2003
Source: Daily Times, The (MD)
Copyright: 2003 The Daily Times
Author: BETSY BLANEY, Associated Press Writer


TULIA, Texas (AP) -- Mattie White had all but given up hope that she would 
ever again be reunited with her two children sent to prison during an 
undercover drug operation since called into question.

"I thought, `It's not going to ever happen.' I would go off and cry to 
myself," White said. Her children were among 46 arrested in 1999 in this 
small Panhandle town.

But over the past few months, White's hopes have risen as civil rights 
advocates decried the arrests as racially motivated and a judge recommended 
that the convictions be overturned.

Retired state District Judge Ron Chapman, of Dallas, was expected Monday to 
order the release of White's 27-year-old son, 26-year-old daughter and 10 
others on personal recognizance bonds while their appeals are being heard.

Another defendant would be covered by the ruling, but won't be released 
because of charges in another county. A 14th defendant is not eligible for 
bond because his case is still pending on direct appeal.

The judge's expected ruling would mark a milestone in the case that has 
brought national attention to this community of 5,000 people. Several 
investigations have been launched.

"I'm so happy for them," said Billy Wafer, who was arrested during the 
busts but had an alibi that led to his case being dismissed. "It's been a 
long time coming but it's finally here."

The controversial busts were led by undercover agent Tom Coleman, who 
claimed he bought drugs from the defendants during an 18-month 
investigation in which he worked alone and used no audio or video surveillance.

No drugs were ever found during a total of 46 arrests and little or no 
corroborating evidence was introduced at trial. Some suggested 
discrimination was behind the arrests. Coleman is white; of the 46 people 
arrested, 39 are black.

A total of 38 of the group arrested were convicted or accepted plea 
agreements out of fear of lengthy prison terms. Of the 38, 14 defendants 
remain in jail.

Last month, Chapman recommended throwing out the convictions. Coleman was 
indicted in April on three counts of aggravated perjury for allegedly lying 
during evidentiary hearings involving the case; he has maintained his 

Chapman found fault with the district attorney and Coleman's supervisors in 
the Swisher County Sheriff's Department and the Panhandle Regional 
Narcotics Trafficking Task Force. His report called Coleman "the most 
devious, nonresponsive witness this court has witnessed in 25 years on the 
bench in Texas."

The Texas Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Justice Department have 
been investigating the case. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles also 
has the cases under review.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals still must rule on the Tulia 
defendants' case, which could take up to two years. Prosecutors have asked 
that the case be sent back to the local court so that it can be dismissed.

Gov. Rick Perry signed into law in early June legislation that allows those 
defendants still in jail to post bond. The law, narrowly tailored to apply 
to the Tulia case, won overwhelming approval in both legislative chambers.

Vanita Gupta, assistant counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education 
Fund and one of many attorneys involved in the cases, said she was 
"overjoyed and relieved" that the defendants who were "ripped from their 
families" finally will be free.

"It is incredible that all three branches of the Texas government have 
recognized the need for action to rectify the injustice that took place in 
Tulia," Gupta said. "But until these individuals receive full and complete 
relief, whether through a pardon or an overturning of their convictions, 
this matter is not resolved."

White, meanwhile, just hopes to be reunited with her two children still 
behind bars: Her son, Kareem White, sentenced to 60 years in prison, and 
her daughter Kizzie, sentenced to 25 years. A third child, Donnie White, 
was paroled in January 2002.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart