Pubdate: Sat, 15 Jan 2005
Source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (TX)
Copyright: 2005 The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Author: D. Lance Lunsford


Jury Recommends Probation For Former Tulia Drug Agent

Perhaps, it was already decided that Tom Coleman would never work in
law enforcement again because of his 1999 flawed undercover drug bust
in Tulia, leading to his own aggravated perjury charges.

A jury completely annihilated the possibility of continuing any such
career late Friday when it handed down a guilty verdict and seven
years in prison for Coleman.

The sentence offered a brief, shining moment of happiness for former
Tulia defendants in the back of the courtroom, who peered on with
hopeful faces.

Then, Judge David Gleason finished reading the verdict.

Joe Don Buckner/Avalanche Journal Tom Coleman, the former under cover
investigator at the center of the 1999 Tulia drug bust, heads to court
Friday morning for the final day of his perjury trial, which was
convicted of one of two accounts of perjury.

Indeed, as quickly as their glee erupted, it just as soon faded when
they learned of the jury's recommendation to probate the sentence.

The judge will later rule on the length and terms of the

Coleman was convicted on one count of aggravated perjury relating to a
March 2003 writ of habeas corpus hearing where he told a judge he did
not know of Cochran County theft charges against him prior to Aug. 7,
1998. He was acquitted of a second count of aggravated perjury
relating to whether he knew he put gasoline into a private vehicle
from a county-owned pump.

"Ask not, Mr. Coleman, for whom the bell tolls,'' urged prosecutor Rob
Hobson in his closing remarks, walking toward the defense table and
looking grimly at Coleman. "The bell tolls for you.''

The defense's effort focused on giving Coleman probation for a number
of reasons - a major one being his involvement in law

"He's a convicted felon,'' said defense attorney John Read. "Mr.
Coleman will never be in law enforcement again. He's out. He's history.

"You know and I know he's got a problem if he goes to the
penitentiary,'' said Read.

Much of Friday's punishment phase parted ways with the actual issues
surrounding Coleman's perjury as the defense tried to turn the
sentence to probation and Hobson pushed for jail time. Hobson took
advantage of the punishment phase to delve into the Tulia drug
defendants and convictions snatched up with the help of Coleman's sole

To do so, he called Freddie Brookins to the stand.

Brookins, 27, spent three years and eight months in the Texas prison
system before he was released - finally pardoned more than a year ago
of a drug crime he did not commit.

On Friday, Brookins took the stand, describing the effects of jail
time and the accusations. The defense, said Hobson, used the
opportunity to question Brookins to their own advantage, pitting
blacks against whites. Of the 46 arrests in the bust, 39 were of black

The defense's effort largely centered on claims the Tulia drug
defendants were all guilty in spite of their pardons.

"What happens when you do that and bust drug dealers?'' Read asked
jurors. "You have to come down here and answer for it.''

At one point, defense attorney Kirk Lechtenberger pointed to the back
of the courtroom where many of the Tulia defendants were watching the

"Why do you think they're all watching this?'' Lechtenberger said,
alleging the case against Coleman was retribution for the Tulia bust.
"Because a long time ago, doing what he thought was right ... because
he's white ...''

Lechtenberger was cut off by an objection from Hobson, which was
sustained by Gleason.

"That's offensive,'' said a stunned onlooker in the

The jurors - 10 whites and two Hispanics - were quick to make each of
their decisions on convictions and jail time, spending a little less
than three hours deliberating.

Many of the Tulia defendants and residents waited for the punishment
late Friday, talking about the case and the fact that little about
Coleman or his perjury case has changed their town.

"In Tulia, it's bigger than Tom Coleman,'' said Gerrod Ervine, 23, who
was convicted in the Tulia sting. "It's a system. They just got one of
their soldiers (Coleman.)''

With most of the case serving as a post-mortem media feeding frenzy,
the search for answers to questions left over spilled into the fifth
floor of the Lubbock County Courthouse where attorneys reflected on
the legal effort in the case.

As many of the questions focused on whether any other justice might be
sought for the drug bust gone awry, Hobson said he was happy with
getting more information out about what happened in Tulia.

"I think the people know a lot more about what happened in Tulia than
they did before this case started,'' he said.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart

In the midst of his testimony, Hobson asked Gleason to appoint an
attorney for Stewart because of potentially perjurious testimony.

Although nothing more was said about Stewart's statement, Hobson said
determining whether Stewart lied on the stand would be up to Lubbock
County Criminal District Attorney Bill Sowder and a grand jury. 
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