Pubdate: Sat, 19 Jun 2004
Source: Texas Observer (TX)
Copyright: 2004 The Texas Observer
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


Terry McEachern may soon discover what it's like to sit in the
defendant's chair in a Swisher County courtroom. The now lame-duck
district attorney prosecuted the convictions of 38 mostly black
defendants swept up in the now-infamous 1999 Tulia drug sting.
McEachern charged small-time drug users as dealers and then lied to
judges and defense lawyers to secure decades-long prison sentences. On
May 26, the State Bar of Texas filed a disciplinary petition against
McEachern with the Texas Supreme Court, the first step toward
disbarring the prosecutor. In the coming months, the state Supreme
Court will review the complaint and likely assign a visiting district
judge to preside over the case in a Swisher County civil court. If
McEachern is found guilty, he faces suspension, reprimand or
disbarment, says the state bar's Mark Pinckard. Observer readers know
the Tulia story well thanks to the groundbreaking reporting of former
editor Nate Blakeslee, whose story in these pages ["Color of Justice,"
June 23, 2000] exposed the tangled past of narcotics agent Tom
Coleman. Coleman's uncorroborated undercover work resulted in the
arrest of 10 percent of Tulia's black population.

McEachern was just as complicit. The state bar complaint charges that,
in a lust for convictions, McEachern told outright lies to perpetuate
the myth that Coleman was an honest officer. While Coleman was working
in Tulia in 1998, County Sheriff Larry Stewart was forced to arrest
the lawman on charges of theft that had occurred during a previous
job. Stewart later told McEachern about Coleman's arrest, according to
the state bar complaint, though the prosecutor didn't inform defense
attorneys, a serious legal breach. McEachern's prosecution team then
conducted a background check on Coleman, according to the complaint,
and turned up evidence that Coleman was a known liar, thief and
suspected racist. The DA refused to share any of this information with
defense counsel, which he was legally obligated to do. According to
the complaint, McEachern then blatantly lied to a trial judge,
contending that he had no background information on Coleman. At trial,
McEachern knowingly allowed Coleman to lie on the witness stand about
his arrest.

McEachern's lies helped win a 99-year sentence for the first Tulia
defendant put on trial for possessing a small amount of cocaine.
Subsequent defendants were condemned to more than 20 years in jail,
even as first-time offenders.

Four years after the convictions, justice has slowly come to Tulia.
All but two of the victims have been released from prison. McEachern
was recently convicted of driving under the influence in New Mexico.
In March, he was routed in the Republican primary for district
attorney. As for Coleman, the former Texas Lawman of the Year is
scheduled to stand trial for perjury later this year.
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