HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Hearings Begin on '99 Drug Bust
Pubdate: Tue, 18 Mar 2003
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2003 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Greg Cunningham
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


TULIA - Evidentiary hearings on the controversial 1999 Tulia drug bust
kicked off Monday with a full house and witnesses questioning the
integrity of the undercover officer who made the cases.

The 242nd District courtroom was packed with spectators and attorneys
in town for evidentiary hearings in the writ of habeas corpus appeals
of four of the people convicted in the sting.

The four defendants - Jason Jerome Williams, Christopher Eugene
Jackson, Freddie Brookins Jr. and Joe Moore - all sat quietly to hear
testimony that mostly called into question the honesty of their
accuser, Tom Coleman. The four men were convicted and received
sentences ranging from 20 to 90 years in prison.

The cases of the four men were upheld on direct appeal, but the habeas
corpus appeals of the four men were remanded back to Tulia last year.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals asked the district court to
determine whether the defendants were convicted solely on the word of
Coleman and whether evidence of wrongdoing in Coleman's background was
wrongly kept from defense attorneys.

Judge Ron Chapman, a retired Dallas judge, is hearing the cases
because District Judge Ed Self recused himself.

Vanita Gupta with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund explained how her side
intended to show that the state withheld important evidence that
Coleman was not reliable. Gupta was joined by more than a dozen
attorneys, many from national law firms.

Attorneys for the state countered in their opening arguments that the
state was not required to turn over the evidence because it would be
inadmissible under state rules of evidence or was public record that
the defense should have found for itself.

John Nation, acting special prosecutor, said no demand for
corroboration exists.

"There is no requirement that the officer be corroborated by an
independent source," Nation said. "That's a jury question, and that
question has been answered negatively for the defendants."

The first witness for the defense, district attorney Ori White,
testified he does not believe Coleman is honest.

White, whose district covers Pecos County where Coleman was employed
by the sheriff's department, said he represented Coleman's ex-wife in
divorce and custody hearings.

"My client was concerned for her safety, and I was concerned for my
safety," White said. "I was concerned enough that I wore a
bullet-proof vest to the final hearing."

Defense attorney Desmond Hogan asked White whether he would have given
the same testimony if he had been contacted at the time of the trial.
White said he would have.

That question was asked of each defense witness, and could be
important because defense attorneys hope to prove that if evidence
from Coleman's background had been turned over, Coleman's testimony
could have been called into question. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake