Timothy Cole's youngest brother and his mother, Cory and Ruby Cole-Session, will also be in the gallery today to hear Rep. Anchia's legislation considered. This has been quite an emotional journey for them.
This bill, sponsored by Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas, is named for Timothy Cole, whom we've written about on our editorial page. Cole died in prison in 1999 while serving a 25 year sentence after being wrongfully convicted for the rape of a Texas Tech student in 1985. Another man confessed to the crime and subsequent DNA tests confirmed that Cole could not possibly have been the rapist. It was the very definition of a travesty of justice.
Anchia's bill would increase the lump sum compensation paid to victims of wrongful imprisonment from $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of imprisonment. In addition to the lump sum payment, the bill also requires the State of Texas to make monthly payments to the exonerated individual for life plus pay health insurance and provide up to 120 hours of free tuition at a career center, community college or state university.
This is one bill that deserves quick approval so we can at least partially compensate individuals who, largely because of prosecutorial overzealousness, served prison time for offenses they didn't commit.
UPDATE: The House approved this legislation overwhelmingly on a voice vote on the Major State Calendar, a signal from the leadership that they considered this a high-priority bill. I was pleased to discover 8 of Texas DNA exonerees - in addition to the Cole family - had come into town to watch the vote - I hadn't expected that! The House members stood and applauded them when Rep. Anchia recognzied them after the bill had passed. A number of the reps came out to greet them afterwards in a sea of smiles, hugs and goodwill.
I've gotta tell you, I couldn't be more proud of the exonerees for having the moral strength and personal fortitude to come to Austin over and over to support improving Texas' laws, not just on this but on all the good public policy bills, too. If I'd spent two decades or more in prison for a crime I didn't commit, I don't know that I'd be able to muster enough faith in the system to even bother participating in the legislative process. The boost in compensation, access to healthcare and educational opportunities in the bill will be a huge boon for these fellows, and I couldn't be more happy for them.
Thank you to Rep. Anchia, his joint and coauthors, and many other supportive House members for taking a substantive and important step toward securing a modicum of justice for Texas' DNA exonerees.