Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Timothy Cole: Exonerated

In what he said was probably the "most important opinion of my judicial career," Judge Charlie Baird yesterday formally, posthumously exonerated Timothy Cole in a 16-page ruling in front of a bank of reporters and TV cameras. (See the full opinion.)

Baird concluded that "the faulty work of the police and the misidentification produced by it was the primary reason why Tim Cole was wrongly convicted." But he expressed equal frustration with the courts for failing to rectify the wrong:
From the day he was falsely convicted Mr. Cole asserted his innocence. Through years of appeals and later effort, he told anyone who would listen that he had not committed the crime.

Court officials did not listen. His appeals and writs were routinely denied and his pleas were ignored.

Worse, however, was the attitude of the courts to [the actual rapist Jerry] Johnson’s claim of guilt. As early as 1995- four years before Tim Cole died- Johnson tried to clear Tim Cole and admit to the rape of Michelle Mallin. His letters were ignored, set aside, and thrown away until one was received by the family of Tim Cole and the Innocence Project of Texas.

Up until that time, no official of the state had conducted any sort of investigation into the innocence of Tim Cole despite repeated pleas to do so.
The opinion also suggested that similar, future such situations might be prevented if lawmakers at the Lege approve legislation "mandating the use of fair practices in eyewitness identification procedures," improving access to the courts for innocence claims, and adequately compensating the falsely convicted, including "their survivors" in cases like Tim Cole's. Read the whole opinion, which I've uploaded onto a Google document.

Before the hearing, I had the pleasure of going to lunch with Cole's family and the crime victim, Michelle Mallin, who had come in from Fort Worth and from the coast, respectively, for the event. While we were waiting for our food, a fellow at the next table was looking on intently. I paid little attention until he stood up and came to present two lovely drawings he'd done - one of the members of Tim Cole's family who were at the table and one of Mallin and her husband, both with poetic inscriptions. He'd recognized who they were - perhaps overhearing our conversation - and spat out the sketches completely on the fly. Cole's nieces and nephews were especially delighted at the gesture. A cool, very Austin moment.

Today, Cole's mother and brother will be meeting with Governor Rick Perry about Timothy's case to request a posthumous pardon.

Check out coverage from AP, the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, the Austin Statesman, the Dallas News, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.


Michelle Moore said...

Congratulations to all of the Cole family and to the Innocence Project of Texas! Michele Malin is a hero! This was superb work by the team. The Cole family is amazing in their efforts on Tim's behalf and for their current work with the exonerees. Although I am warmed by this moment, I am extremely sad that this moment came to pass in Texas - that Tim had to die in order for this injustice to be brought to light. I believe that his death was not in vain, though, since I do believe that this will be a landmark case for Texas and that Tim's death will result in many changes in the way innocence cases are handled.

Scott, thanks for handling this story with grace!

Charlie O said...

Unfortunately, I have to disagree. This is no landmark case, no turn point for Texas. Texans, by and large, don't care if the wrong guy goes to jail. Just so long as SOMEONE gets locked up. That's been the long standing Texas philosophy. Lock'em all up, throw away the key. Who cares if a few innocents get locked or even executed along the way. It's acceptable collateral damage in the minds of most Texans. And yes, I do blame Texans. They are are the ones who have continually elected the despicable people that represent Texas in Austin and Washington DC.

Anonymous said...

I can imagine nothing worse than being in prison for a crime I did not commit.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is completely useless!

This is indeed an excellent example that proves improvements are needed. The Texas Judicial System is not innocent of wrongdoing in this case!!

Robert Langham said...

Police and prosecutors should be responsible for the people they falsely convict.

Anonymous said...

Robert, you're an idiot. Police should be responsible just as every doctor should be responsible when a patient they are treating dies. Come on....think!

Don said...

Anon 7:30. Excuse me, I don't think Robert is the idiot. He's expressing outrage for wrongdoing. In this case, Tim Cole was convicted partially because police rigged a lineup, and did some other stuff that stacked the deck. So tell me, just why the f--- they shouldn't be held responsible for the death of an innocent man. Just, as you say, like doctors should be held responsible for a death due to their negligence, incompetence, etc.

sunray's wench said...

The family should not have to reqest a pardon from Mr Perry. If he was any kind of human, he would have been signing the paperwork seconds after the judge's decision.

Anonymous said...

Sunray that is a sad statement about Perry that he has to be asked t if he will sign a pardon . It shows he thinks that admitting the state was wrong will somehow cost him votes and campaign funds . Unfortunately Charlie O is right. In Texas innocence and guilt are irrelevant as long as some one gets locked up or executed . Worse is that Mr Cole was ignored by those who are supposed to prevent this from happening . If any one noticed Jerry Johnson waited until the statue of limitations had run out before confessing making it impossible for him to be held criminally accountable for his crime .How does convicting and incarcerating innocent people make any one safer if the real perpetrator is still free ? Those responsible for deliberately convicting innocent people should serve the same prison term that person was given and there should not be a chance of parole . That might make them think twice .

Anonymous said...

SORRY - Gov Perry has NO JURISDICTION to grant Tim Cole a Pardon. Nor should one even be requested. ...
A Pardon is foregiveness for an offense. THERE WAS NO OFFENSE.
The Gov has no authority / jurisdiction to decide guilt or innocence. That is the function of the Judicial Department.

Judge Baird ALREADY exonerated Tim Cole. Asking for a pardon is makiong an admission of guilt, with a request for forgiveness. .... So WHY is his family asking for a pardon !!!

Don said...

I agree with Anon 8:01. Tim is exonerated. Why give Perry a chance to grandstand some more? Screw him. This nut never does anything that is not self-serving and politically motivated. I am surprised that Jeff Blackburn said he thought Perry was genuine in his support of the family and contrition on behalf of the state. I think Blackburn is unduly generous.

Unknown said...

NO wise nation of people want a Governor / the Executive Division to be the decider of "guilt" or "innocence". An INDEPENDENT, and IMPARTIAL, Judiciary must make the decision based on impartial administration of the law to the facts. The Legislature also has jurisdiction to make the call.

When the Executive Department is allowed to "judge" people, the people have lost their LIBERTY and JUSTICE no longer exists.

A civil society and civil system does NOT "judge" people. It judges ACTIONS as an "offense" or finds the facts reveal the accused to be NOT GUILTY of an offense.

There is NO SUCH THING AS A "CRIMINAL". There are "criminal acts" that persons, including artificial persons such as Corporations and Government Entities, commit. For these there must be an accounting.

Anonymous said...

"Texans, by and large, don't care if the wrong guy goes to jail. Just so long as SOMEONE gets locked up"

You know, I don;t think it can be summed up any better. Judges, DA's Cops, they all don;t care. Just give them a body to throw into prison and they all go home happy or worse use it in a freaking campaign ad. The moment it was found that he did not commit the offense, the State was tarnished. That isn;t something you can wash off either. This sort of tarnish was created by the blood of innocence.

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker here:

Police and prosecutors not only should be but are responsible for false convictions, if not here, then hereafter. The state already is legally responsible. Those who engineer these convictions should in some way be held accountable by the state. Anonymous 7:30, if that makes me an idiot, at least I'm not an idiot hiding behind the cowardly cloak of anonymity.

sunray's wench said...

@ anon 8.01 ~ perhaps the family are just making sure all their bases are covered, in case someone later on decides that a judicial exoneration is not enough by Texas law to actually clear someone of everything they were supposed by the state to have done?

123txpublicdefender123 said...

Another person who should be held responsible is the trial judge and every appellate judge who denied Tim his appeal. The trial judge largely refused to allow in the evidence that pointed to Jerry Johnson as the Tech rapist. And every appellate court that reviewed that decision upheld it. Perhaps, if the jury had heard the evidence against Mr. Johnson they would have come to a different conclusion. We will never know.

I congratulate all those who worked on behalf of Tim and his family, including Ms. Malin, who was wanted the person who actually raped her to be held accountable, and not some stooge that the police manipulated her into identifying. It is such a tragedy that Tim Cole did not live to see this day, but I hope that Michelle is right, and that his death at our hands (for all intents and purposes, he was killed by the State of Texas) leads to necessary reforms.

Of course, no matter what reforms we make, people will continue to be convicted based on mistaken eyewitness testimony until jurors require more than just an eyewitness ID to convict. If the jurors in this case had so required, Tim Cole never would have been convicted.

Michael Ejercito said...

Police and prosecutors should be responsible for the people they falsely convict.
They should be held strictly liable.

Fred B. McKinley said...

Last year when I first heard the story about Tim Cole, it provided me with the incentive to write about it. So I contacted the Innocence Project of Texas, Tim Cole’s mother and family, researched the original trial transcripts and police investigative reports and conducted numerous interviews. Out of this came my forthcoming book titled A PLEA FOR JUSTICE: The Timothy Cole Story, published by Eakin Press, and set for release about May 01, 2010. My thanks to this blog for keeping this issue in front of the American public.