Pubdate: Thu, 30 Sep 2004
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Greg Cunningham
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


Perjury Case to Be Heard in Lubbock Court in January

TULIA - Eight Swisher County juries backed Tom Coleman in the 1999 Tulia 
drug bust, but a ninth jury, which will have the final say on the 
controversial undercover officer's fate, will not be from Tulia.

Visiting Judge David Gleason overruled defense attorneys' objections 
Wednesday and ordered the perjury trial of Coleman moved to Lubbock early 
next year.

"In my opinion, the publicity surrounding the entire situation - including 
Mr. Coleman's appearance on national television - has been vast, to say the 
least," Gleason said in handing down his decision. "It is the court's 
opinion that a fair trial cannot be held in Swisher County."

Coleman, dressed in a suit jacket and tie, was quiet at the hearing, but 
his Dallas attorney, John Read, was much less reticent after the verdict.

"I think this is terrible," Read said. "I want the people here to decide 
what happens to Tom Coleman. There's a principle involved here."

Coleman is at the center of the controversy surrounding the Tulia drug 
bust, in which 46 people, 39 of them black, were arrested.

Coleman was the star witness - and generally the only substantial witness - 
at eight trials in which defendants were convicted and given long prison 
sentences. Most of the rest of the defendants took plea bargains to avoid 
long jail terms.

The cases against the Tulia defendants started to fall apart when 
allegations of misconduct in Coleman's background surfaced. The state's 
cases were dealt a further blow at evidentiary hearings last year when 
Coleman gave testimony that appeared to conflict with earlier statements.

That testimony led to pardons for nearly all of the defendants and 
indictments on three counts of aggravated perjury for Coleman.

Prosecutors favored the change of venue, as did Gleason, who submitted his 
own motion to move the trial.

Read and fellow attorney Kirk Lechtenberger disagreed, calling several 
witnesses in opposition to Gleason's motion. The witnesses, community 
leaders from Tulia, were united in their belief the trial could and should 
be held in Tulia.

"I'd like to see any trial that's about what we're doing here be held 
here," said insurance agent Bob Colson. "I think we need to make the 
decision about it."

Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart was first on the stand, saying Tulia 
residents are capable of putting aside their opinions on the case to render 
a fair decision.

"My opinion is based on living in this community as long as I have," 
Stewart said. "And I believe this community will look at the facts and make 
a fair decision."

The hearing featured a preview of the fireworks likely to explode at the 
trial between fiery prosecutor Rod Hobson and the equally passionate Read. 
Hobson irked the defense team by mentioning a defense motion for change of 
venue that was never officially filed with the court and seemed to run 
counter to their opposition for moving the trial.

"Mr. Hobson knows not to get into that," Lechtenberger said as he shot to 
his feet just slightly ahead of Read. "That's a bad-faith effort and 
inappropriate unless he wants to get into all his dirty laundry."

While the defense team angrily voiced its objection, which Gleason 
overruled, Hobson coolly poured himself a glass of water.

After the hearing, Hobson's fellow prosecutor, John Nation, said Gleason's 
decision was a sound one.

The change of venue was never about benefiting one side over another, but 
simply about the practicality of finding 12 jurors in Tulia who had no 
relation to the case and no strong opinions about what happened in 1999, he 

"The bottom line is I just don't feel you would be able to seat a jury in a 
town this small that has been through a controversy this big," Nation said. 
"Everybody in this town is either involved in the case, related to someone 
who is or has a strong opinion."

Coleman's trial is tentatively set for the week of Jan. 10. 
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