Pubdate: Fri,  9 Apr 2004
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Greg Cunningham
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


The State Bar of Texas filed a petition this week accusing the district 
attorney who prosecuted the Tulia drug sting cases of "serious" misconduct, 
including withholding evidence and making false statements in court to prop 
up the reputation of an undercover agent who has since been indicted for 
perjury. District Attorney Terry McEachern faces discipline ranging from a 
public reprimand to disbarment if the allegations against him are held up 
at trial, which should happen this year, said Dawn Miller, chief 
disciplinary counsel for the bar.

"We do consider it a very serious case," Miller said. "But it's very early 
on in the process to really know what (punishment) our evidence will support."

McEachern, who lost his bid for re-election in last month's primary refused 
to comment about the allegations Thursday. He said he believes the matter 
is still covered under the state bar's secrecy rules, and claiming bar 
officials are violating their own rules by speaking publicly about the 

McEachern was the prosecutor for all the cases arising from the 
controversial 1999 bust in which 46 people were arrested, 39 of them black. 
McEachern secured jury convictions in eight of the cases, while most of the 
rest of the defendants agreed to plea bargains.

The cases began to fall apart in the intense glare of the national media 
spotlight, leading Gov. Rick Perry to issue pardons in nearly all of the cases.

The undercover agent who conducted the sting, Tom Coleman, was indicted on 
three counts of perjury after giving testimony in an appeal hearing that 
conflicted with earlier statements.

All of the allegations in the petition relate to McEachern's handling of 
Coleman's background information at trial.

Midway through the Tulia investigation, Coleman was charged with theft and 
abuse of official capacity in Cochran County, where he previously worked as 
a deputy. Coleman allegedly used a county credit card to purchase gas for 
his personal vehicle.

The charges were dropped after Coleman paid $7,000 restitution, and the 
agent went back to work in Tulia.

According to the state bar petition, McEachern failed to turn over evidence 
relating to the Cochran County charges and knowingly allowed Coleman to lie 
when asked on the stand whether he had ever been arrested. McEachern 
further falsely represented Coleman's background in court to bolster the 
reputation of his star witness, the petition states.

Miller said the complaint became a public matter when McEachern and the 
state bar's grievance committee could not work out a suitable outcome, and 
the prosecutor requested a trial in district court.

Miller said the allegations are serious, and the state bar will prosecute 
the case to its fullest abilities.

"What we are alleging, and believe we can prove with regard to Mr. 
McEachern, pretty much goes to the core of public trust for an attorney in 
his position," Miller said. "The other thing is this obviously involves a 
number of different cases. This is not one, isolated case."

Although he refused to comment Thursday, McEachern previously defended his 
decision not to turn over Coleman's background information by citing Rule 
609 of the Texas Rules of Evidence, which states a witness may only be 
impeached with prior crimes if convicted of a felony, which did not happen 
in Coleman's case.

That rule runs up against federal precedent, generally known as the Brady 
rule, that says prosecutors are obligated to turn over impeachment evidence 
of witnesses called by the state.

Amarillo lawyer Jeff Blackburn, who represented the defendants prosecuted 
by McEachern, said he holds no animosity toward McEachern. Blackburn did 
say, however, that he hopes the case will become a starting point for 
reigning in prosecutors.

"It is too easy to scapegoat individuals when, in reality, the entire 
system is to blame for this misconduct," Blackburn said. "I hope the state 
bar goes farther than just going after an individual. I hope the state bar 
becomes and advocate of changing the whole system that gave rise to this 
kind of misconduct."

Blackburn said what is needed is a law that clearly defines what evidence 
prosecutors are required to turn over to the defense, along with sanctions 
for violating that law. That step needs to be backed up with a fair system 
for providing competent defense to people who can't afford it, he said.

"I've said for a long time that if we had professional public defenders in 
this state, what happened in Tulia would never have occurred," Blackburn said.
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