HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Perry Pardons 35 Convicted In Tulia Case
Pubdate: Sat, 23 Aug 2003
Source: Abilene Reporter-News (TX)
Copyright: 2003 Abilene Reporter-News
Author: Betsy Blaney
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)
Bookmark: (Tom Coleman)
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Racial Issues)


TULIA - Gov. Rick Perry on Friday granted pardons to 35 people who
were convicted of drug charges based on the testimony of an undercover
agent later charged with perjury.

"Texans demand a justice system that is tough but fair," Perry said in
a statement. "I believe my decision to grant pardons in these cases is
both appropriate and just."

Perry said he was influenced by questions about the testimony of Tom
Coleman, the only undercover agent involved in the busts. In June,
Perry signed a bill allowing the release of the 12 Tulia defendants
who were still in prison.

"It feels good to finally be completely free," said Freddie Brookins
Jr., who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison on Coleman's word.
He was released in June. His father called Friday's pardons

"We've been waiting for this for four years," Freddie Brookins Sr.

An attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which marshaled law
firms in New York and Washington to represent the defendants for free,
said Perry did the right thing.

"This is just really incredible news. This is what we saw the facts
showed," said the lawyer, Vanita Gupta.

Coleman worked alone and used no audio or video surveillance to
substantiate drug buys he said he made from 46 people from Tulia, a
small town of about 5,100 residents 60 miles north of Lubbock.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, asked by Perry to review the
cases, unanimously recommended the pardons last month.

Of the 46 people arrested in July 1999, 39 were black, which led civil
rights groups to question if the busts were racially motivated.

A judge this spring ruled that Coleman was "simply not a credible
witness" and recommended the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturn
the convictions of the 38 people prosecuted and order new trials.

Coleman was indicted for perjury in April in connection with testimony
he gave at evidentiary hearings this year. He faces a preliminary
hearing next month. Of those convicted but not pardoned, one is on
deferred probation and two were not eligible to seek pardons because
of convictions on other charges.

Also Friday, two women who were indicted but never prosecuted after
the drug busts filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Amarillo
against law enforcement officials. Zuri Bossett and Tonya White said
they were not in Tulia at the time Coleman claimed he bought drugs
from them.

The women sued Coleman, Swisher County and its sheriff, Larry Stewart,
prosecutor Terry McEachern and several officials with a narcotics task
force in Amarillo that worked with Coleman. The women, who did not
specify damages in their lawsuit, said the officials violated their
civil rights and directed racial bias against Tulia's black population.

Coleman's attorney did not immediately return calls for comment.
Stewart declined to comment. McEachern said he hadn't seen the lawsuit
and couldn't comment. Officials at the task force were

Swisher County officials approved a $250,000 settlement for those
imprisoned on Coleman's word in exchange for the defendants promising
not to sue the county. Bossett and White did not receive any of the
settlement because charges against them were dropped.

Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo lawyer representing some of those
prosecuted, called the lawsuit "the opening round in a new phase of
this struggle." He said officials responsible for the drug busts had
not been brought to justice.
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