Pubdate: Sat, 10 Jul 2004
Source: Athens Review (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Athens Daily Review
Author: Jayson Larson
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


Judge Ron Chapman has played a key role in changing the fates of the "Tulia
defendants" caught up in a West Texas drug scandal five years ago.

Chapman, a Trinidad resident and former 5th District congressional
candidate, is now nearing the end of his task.

Interviews between Chapman and the 45 Tulia residents victimized in the
scandal are likely to conclude this week, the judge said, and $4 million in
settlement money from a civil rights lawsuit could be dispersed by next
week. Chapman was asked to determine how the settlement money from a federal
lawsuit against the multi-county task force was to be dispersed among the

"It's almost over," Chapman said.

Chapman said he will respect the privacy of the defendants by not disclosing
how much each defendant will receive from the settlement. The amounts will
vary based upon time spent in jail and total losses suffered by each

"Everyone lost something," he said. "It's either having not seen your kids
for four straight birthdays ... or your grandmother who raised you and
worried about you while you were in jail and is too sick now."

It will also include actual damages, such as lost homes, property and jobs.

In 1999, 45 Tulia residents were arrested during a drug task force sting.
Many were convicted and some served several years in prison. Chapman, a
retired Dallas district judge, was asked in 2002 to hear writs of habeas
corpus to discuss the imprisonment of the defendants shortly after his
unsuccessful congressional bid.

By early 2003, after hearing evidence in the cases, Chapman said he began
seeing several "red flags" in the cases, all of which were built upon the
sole testimony of Tom Coleman, a law enforcement officer working with a
26-county task force based in Amarillo. Convictions were secured, in many
cases, based solely upon Coleman's uncorroborated testimony. He was later
indicted on three counts of aggravated perjury, and the Tulia defendants
were pardoned by Gov. Rick Perry.

Chapman said he has seen changes for the good in many of the defendants,
many of whom are poor and have little meager lives but want to use their
settlement money to make their lives better.

"I've heard some great plans, seen some changed lives -- much for the
better," Chapman said. "Will they all do it? Heck, no. But there are many
who will. I hope most of them do what they say and put some money away for
the kids or buy a house.

"I'm very honored I've been asked to do that, but I'm very well aware I
could be making one person happy and 44 people unhappy."
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