Monday, September 21, 2009

Time magazine profiles Texas crimjust reforms

Time magazine this week has a feature calling Texas the "kinder, gentler hang 'em high state" thanks to the passage of the Tim Cole compensation act for those convicted and exonerated and legislation to create a new office of capital writs. Here's how the story opens:
Tim Cole couldn't tell his own story and so his family recounted the saga to the hard-bitten Texas legislators last spring. The convict had insisted he was innocent right up to the day he died. He had refused parole because that would have required him to admit he was guilty of raping a fellow student at Texas Tech University. The ordeal was wrenching: Cole wept during the nights as he awaited a trial that would sentence him to 25 years in jail. Twice during his prison term he was found unconscious in his cell, the result of the asthma that had plagued him since childhood. The third time he suffered an attack, Dec. 2, 1999, he died from heart failure. Then, in 2007, another man confessed to the crime and Cole was declared innocent. The Texas lawmakers wept at the tale; and as a result, the state that has the reputation of being toughest on crime came up with one of the most generous and supportive programs to compensate those wrongfully convicted: the Tim Cole Act.

"I think Tim Cole's story moved a lot of people," says Lubbock attorney Kevin Glasheen, who represents 12 men exonerated after serving lengthy terms for rape. "As far as the politicians go, there are a lot of Republicans who do not like abusive government power." But the legislators from both parties did more than shed tears. Apart from the Tim Cole Act, they passed a second law this spring creating a well-funded office of expert appellate lawyers to represent death row inmates, a move to overcome the tales of sleepy defense attorneys and inept lawyering. The two new laws are now being implemented and their backers hope they will mitigate the state's hang 'em high image.
Of course, the last thing on anybody's mind at the Texas Legislature was trying to "mitigate the state's hang 'em high image." If anything, legislators were worried that reform bills might damage their reputations as "tuff on crime." Time perhaps flatters its readers in the rest of the country that Texans in public office give a tinker's damn about their good opinion.

Still, its good to see these reform efforts getting national recognition. While Texas historically deserves its super-tough reputation, recent years have witnessed countervailing trends that fly in the face of that stereotype, even if Time magazine didn't notice until now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Something good has come out of a tragic miscarriage of justice. But there are mixed emotions on this here.

When "any somebody will do" rather than the "right somebody" simply to satisfy the public cry for vengeance it is nothing more than an unjust exercise of power for which we all should fee ashamed. Justice can never be just if the wrong person is arrested, tried and convicted.

Additionally, a sentence to prison should not be a death sentence due to inadequate medical treatment and care. The sentence was a period of time, not death.

Yet, the fact that Texas is now facing the consequences of such practices and trying to make reasonable amends and compensation to those wrongly convicted is a moral, ethical, decent and appropriate way to make amends. It can never fully repair the harm of a wrongful conviction but it moves in the right direction. It is a sign of balance that is so often missing in Texas and gives me hope for a more equitable justice system.

Yes, something good has come from terrible injustice.