LUBBOCK, Texas – Paying tribute to the first inmate in Texas exonerated posthumously, officials dedicated a memorial statue of Timothy Cole on Wednesday.
Cole, a black Texas Tech University student, was wrongfully convicted 28 years ago to the day by an all-white Lubbock jury of a white classmate’s rape in 1985.
He maintained his innocence when offered probation in exchange for his plea of guilty early on in the case, and later when offered parole if he admitted to the crime.
Cole died from an asthma attack in Texas state prison in 1999 – four years after Jerry Wayne Johnson, serving a 99-year sentence for another rape, confessed to the rape for which Cole was convicted.
DNA evidence excluded Cole as the rapist in 2008, and Gov. Rick Perry pardoned Cole in 2010, making him the state’s first posthumous exoneration.
At the dedication Wednesday, Perry to an estimated crowd of 400 that legislative efforts in Texas to deal with wrongful convictions since Cole’s exoneration have become a “beacon” for other states dealing with these issues.
“We’ve enacted measures to ensure something like this wouldn’t happen again,” Perry said.
Passed in 2009, the state’s “Tim Cole Act” provides exonerees $80,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration. The “Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions” reported in 2011 to the Texas Legislature on procedures and practices to address wrongful convictions including recommendations on standardizing eyewitness identifications that eventually became law.
The city of Lubbock last year approved redesignating a corner of two major streets serving Texas Tech as Timothy Cole Memorial Park.
Kevin Glasheen, a Lubbock personal injury attorney who has successfully represented other Texas exonerees seeking compensation for their wrongful imprisonments, funded a 13-foot bronze depiction of Cole as a Texas Tech student.
A handful of the state’s 49 wrongfully convicted whom DNA evidence later exonerated attended the dedication, and stood to the applause of attendees.
The Texas Tech rape victim, who twice identified Cole as her rapist – once in a photo array and again in a line-up – has publicly blamed Lubbock police for causing her to make a false identification of her assailant. Cole’s was the lone color photograph Lubbock police used in a photo lineup otherwise made up of black-and-white photos.
Charles Baird, the state district judge in Austin who heard the case in 2009 including the new DNA evidence, also blamed the police’s “improper conduct.”
Lubbock Councilman Todd Klein said the city finally gave Cole and his family justice.
“When we make a mistake, we should admit to it,” Klein said.
Speaking for the Cole family, Cory Session, younger brother of Cole, adapted a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. to fit present circumstances.
“The arc of justice is long, but for our family it bends toward Lubbock today,” Session said.
Session spoke of the heartbreak his mother, Ruby Cole Session, experienced when Cole was convicted. Ruby Session died last year but her work on behalf of her son was recognized by many of the speakers, some of whom met with her when she was lobbying for the legislation named for her son.
Drawing a distinction between protests in Ferguson, Mo., following the police killing of a black man there last month, and the wrongful conviction of Cole in Lubbock, Session said his mother had been contacted about holding a public demonstration after the news about her son’s wrongful conviction broke. She told the caller she was a teacher by trade, that there would not be a demonstration, but that there would be education followed by legislation, Session said.
“He left here with his head bowed, and arms and legs in shackles,” Session said of Cole. “Today he returns standing tall, uncompromised. But not unsung.”
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