Pubdate: Mon, 16 Jun 2003
Source: Oklahoman, The (OK)
Copyright: 2003 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Author: Betsy Blaney, Associated Press Writer
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


TULIA, Texas -- Thirteen people imprisoned on the testimony of a 
discredited undercover officer were to be released today, nearly four years 
after they and dozens of other mostly black residents were arrested on drug 
charges. "It's been a long time coming but it's finally here," said Billy 
Wafer, one of the 46 arrested in the 1999 sweep that capped an 18-month 
undercover operation.

Wafer had an alibi, and his case was dismissed.

But 38 others were convicted on the uncorroborated word of undercover drug 
agent Tom Coleman -- now under indictment on perjury charges -- or they 
accepted plea agreements out of fear of lengthy prison terms.

Civil rights advocates have called the arrests racially motivated. Of the 
46 arrested in the small Panhandle town, 39 were black. Coleman is white.

Coleman claimed he bought drugs from the defendants, but he worked alone 
and used no audio or video surveillance. No drugs were ever found during 
the arrests, and little or no corroborating evidence was introduced in court.

Today, 12 blacks and one Hispanic were to appear before State District 
Judge Ron Chapman, who was expected to free them on personal recognizance 
bonds while their cases are on appeal. Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill June 2 
allowing for the releases; it could take as long two years for the Texas 
Court of Criminal Appeals to rule on their cases.

The judge recommended that the 38 convictions be overturned and new trials 
ordered, but a special prosecutor has said there will be no new trials.

Coleman, a contract agent for the Panhandle Regional Drug Task Force, was 
indicted in April on three charges of aggravated perjury stemming from his 
testimony during the hearings Chapman oversaw.
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