After the Austin Statesman ran a moving front-page article on the story yesterday, today there's national coverage in USA Today previewing the court hearing ("Texas family fights for man's posthumous exoneration," Feb. 4):
On Thursday, Cole's family and lawyers will appear in an Austin courtroom in pursuit of an extraordinary posthumous legal ruling to clear his name. The strategy is unprecedented in Texas and rare in the U.S., say advocates for the wrongfully convicted, who fear others also have died before they could prove their innocence.Meanwhile, the Statesman followed up its story with an editorial today titled, "Even in death, Cole deserves justice." Opined the paper:
There'll be a lot more attention paid to this case for the rest of the week. With Cole's family in town today to prepare for the court of inquiry, Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Fort Worth) in the House of Representatives and Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) in the Texas Senate have proposed resolutions for consideration this morning that "pay special tribute" to Tim Cole and expressing "profound sympathy" for what happened. (See a copy here.)
Texas has an unenviable track record of convicting defendants who later were proved to be innocent. From the lamentable false drug charges brought against African Americans in Tulia to the conviction of Anthony Robinson, exonerated and pardoned after DNA testing proved he did not commit the sexual assault that sent him to prison for 10 years.
According to the Innocence Project, 35 former Texas inmates have been exonerated by DNA testing since 1994. Many of those former inmates were convicted on eyewitness testimony, as was Cole.
Cole's accuser said she believed investigators had other evidence again him beyond her eyewitness identification. She now says it was a shoddy investigation and that Cole never should have been convicted. That's why she has joined his family and the Innocence Project in pressing for a hearing Thursday on Cole's conviction.
If Cole were alive, there would be no question that he would get a hearing. But even in death, he deserves justice.
While I'd not presume that any of this will bring "closure" for Cole's family - especially for his mother, Ruby Cole Sesssion, I'm sure that's not really possible - I do hope these proceedings provide them the vindication they've sought for so long, and that Cole's case will inspire lawmakers and the courts to change the way the justice system does business to prevent many more such tragedies.
UPDATE: I had the privilege of spending the morning at the capitol with Tim Cole's family while these resolutions were passed in the House and Senate, accompanying them in my capacity with the Innocence Project of Texas. In the House, at the family's request, I actually went out with them on the dais to hear the resolution read. It was a pretty moving, emotional experience - for them and for me.
In both chambers, nearly all the members present came up afterward to shake hands and express their condolences, including quite a few who genuinely surprised me with their concern over the case. Some hugged Cole's mother, Ruby Cole Session, like she was family. His brothers told me afterward they found the whole thing overwhelming, that they hadn't expected the ardent and sincere reaction they got from Texas legislators. (I was actually pretty proud of our legislators for that.)
The Tim Cole case is an American tragedy of almost Shakespearean proportions. If the real rapist hadn't begun writing letters to the DA and the family insisting he'd committed the crime, there's little doubt the truth would never have come to light. The eyewitness ID procedures that caused Cole to be accused were terribly corrupted, and police ignored evidence that pointed to another perpetrator. Those things are also true in many other Texas DNA exonerations, but the fact that Cole never lived to see freedom again makes his story especially poignant.
I was honored and humbled to join Tim Cole's family today; I can promise you it's an experience I'll cherish and won't soon forget.