Texas Case Could Spark Reforms


The fallout of the Timothy Cole case is continuing this week in Texas. On Friday, a judge ruled that Cole should be posthumously exonerated of the 1985 rape for which he spent thirteen years in prison. He died of an asthma attack while serving a 25-year sentence and DNA testing last year proved that another man committed the crime.

Cole’s conviction was based in part on eyewitness misidentification, and Texas lawmakers this session are seeking to prevent misidentifications in the future. State Senator Rodney Ellis, the Innocence Project Board Chairman, has introduced an identification reform bills in the state, and Cole’s family (along with a dozen exonerees) visited with lawmakers on Thursday to support the legislation. Ellis has also introduced bills to improve compensation for exonerees and to create an innocence commission. An editorial in the Austin American-Statesman yesterday called on lawmakers to improve eyewitness practices to prevent future injustice:

Those rules have been adopted by other states, and they should be the law in Texas. Too many wrongful convictions have been based on eyewitness testimony for Texans to be comfortable with the current system.

Timothy Cole was denied justice while he was alive. But his family, the Innocence Project (of Texas) and Judge Baird saw to it that justice wasn't denied forever.

Read the full editorial

. (Austin American-Statesman, 2/10/09)

And an editorial in today’s Dallas Morning News pointed to another potential reform. The editorial says prosecutors withheld information of the real perpetrator from Cole’s attorneys and calls on state lawmakers to pass a law criminalizing the withholding of exculpatory evidence.

Lawmakers should also seriously consider a proposal supported by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and the Texas Innocence Project to criminalize the withholding of exculpatory evidence in cases such as Cole's.

The shame should forever haunt (prosecutor Jim Bob) Darnell and his cohorts for the injustice they committed. For others who follow, the prospect of criminal prosecution should chill their conviction-at-all-costs enthusiasm.

Read the full editorial here

. (Dallas Morning News, 02/11/09)

More coverage:

Voice of America:

Exoneration of Dead Man in Texas May Prompt Judicial Reforms

Lubbock Online:

After Cole Cleared, Family Fights On

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