Fort Worth man's innocence now on display

Posted Monday, Feb. 06, 2012

By Mitch Mitchell

FORT WORTH -- Twenty-six years after he was convicted of a rape he did not commit, Tim Cole's reputation has been restored, his supporters said.

On Monday afternoon, Cole's family gathered near his grave in Mount Olivet Cemetery, along with people involved in his exoneration, to unveil the state's first historical marker dedicated to an innocent man who died in prison.

The marker briefly describes how Cole, an Army veteran from Fort Worth and a Texas Tech University student, landed in prison and how he was eventually cleared because of the work of the Innocence Project of Texas, the rape victim and Cole's family.

The marker goes on to state: "In 2009, the 81st Texas Legislature enacted the Tim Cole Act, to compensate wrongly convicted individuals, and created the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions to reverse other wrongful imprisonments and prevent future miscarriages of justice."

Earlier Monday, several of the principal characters in the Cole story spoke to students at Texas Wesleyan law school.

It was the third anniversary of state District Judge Charles Baird's oral order announcing Cole's innocence after an unusual court of inquiry.

Michele Mallin described how she was a 20-year-old sophomore at Tech when she was kidnapped and raped at knifepoint. When she picked Cole out of a photo lineup, police officers told her that he was "a scumbag." In 1986, Cole was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Years later, when attorneys asked her to help clear Cole's name because DNA testing proved that he was not the rapist, she said she was happy to do anything she could.

"Michele Mallin did everything the criminal justice system asked her to do and Tim Cole did everything the criminal justice system asked him to do," Baird said. "They put their faith in the system and the system failed them repeatedly."

Jeff Blackburn, an Innocence Project lawyer who worked on the Cole case, said the police who arrest the wrong people, the attorneys who prosecute them and the judges who sentence them are never sanctioned for their mistakes.

"There are too many lawyers and judges who believe that the law is a sterile set of rules that should be enshrined in stone," he said. "It's why so many innocent people are in prison today."

Cole is one of 44 Texas men exonerated by DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project. But Cole was the first to be exonerated posthumously.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @stcrime

Looking for comments?