Pubdate: Tue, 17 Jun 2003
Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2003 The Charlotte Observer
Author: Betsy Blaney, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


12 In Texas Free After Years In Jail On Just Agent's Word

Judge Urges Appeals Court To Overturn Convictions

TULIA, Texas - After as much as four years behind bars, 12 people 
imprisoned in a drug bust that brought cries of racism in this Texas 
Panhandle town were freed Monday by a judge who said they were railroaded 
by a white undercover agent.

"I got something to smile about today," Freddie Brookins said after the 
release of his son, Freddie Jr. "It's been a lot of hard work that's gone 
into this."

The 11 black defendants and one white defendant were released on bail while 
they await a ruling by the state's highest criminal appellate court, which 
ordered evidentiary hearings last year. A special prosecutor has said he 
will dismiss all charges if the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals grants them 
new trials. The judge has recommended the appeals court overturn all 

The racially charged case tore apart this town of 5,000 people and led to 
investigations by the U.S. Justice Department and the Texas Attorney 
General's office.

A bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry two weeks 
ago allowed them to be released until a decision was made on their cases.

"There are a great number of people who have a great deal of time, effort 
and faith in each of you invested," state Judge Ron Chapman said in 
ordering the 12 released. Chapman was brought out of retirement to preside 
over a review of the case.

"We have good people here in Tulia," 26-year-old Freddie Brookins Jr. said 
as he walked free after serving four years of a 20-year sentence. "There's 
no doubt about it; we have great people here in Tulia."

A 13th defendant, Daniel Olivarez, 22, will remain in custody because he 
faces a drug charge in another county. A 14th defendant, Cash Love, 
included in the bill signed by the governor was ineligible for bail because 
his conviction in the case is tied up in a separate appeal.

Love's wife, Kizzie White, 26, was among those freed. "I just wanted to get 
ahold of my kids," she said of 6-year-old Cashawn and 9-year-old Roneisha.

The undercover agent, Tom Coleman, who worked for a regional drug task 
force, has been indicted on perjury charges.

All 12 were released from the Swisher County Jail on personal recognizance 
bonds, meaning they did not have to post any money.

Forty-six people, 39 of them black, were arrested and accused of possessing 
cocaine following an 18-month undercover operation. Coleman claimed he 
bought drugs from the defendants, but he worked alone and used no audio or 
video surveillance. And no drugs or money were found during the arrests.

Thirty-eight defendants were convicted in 1999 and 2000 on Coleman's 
uncorroborated word or accepted plea bargains for fear they would get long 
prison sentences. In seven other cases, the charges were dismissed. And one 
defendant died before his trial.

The rest of the 38 not covered by Monday's release had already been paroled 
or released on probation.

In late April, Coleman was indicted on three charges of aggravated perjury 
stemming from his testimony during hearings held by Chapman.

In a filing to the appeals court which Chapman signed, Coleman was called 
"the most devious, nonresponsive witness this court has witnessed in 25 
years on the bench in Texas." He is no longer in law enforcement.

Coleman's "blatant perjury" during the Tulia prosecutions "so undermines 
the court's confidence in the validity of the convictions entered in those 
cases that it would be a travesty of justice to permit the applicants' 
convictions to stand," Chapman told the appeals court.
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