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Innocence Commission bill in trouble, sponsor says

Posted Thursday, May. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Legislation that would create a commission to review wrongful convictions in Texas is in peril after an advocate for the bill — the brother of a Fort Worth exoneree who died while wrongfully imprisoned — lambasted a state senator who opposes it during a committee hearing this week.

"I don't have my votes in committee," state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said Thursday. He is the Senate sponsor of House Bill 166, which would establish an innocence commission in Texas. "I had them, but I don't have them now."

During a Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing on Tuesday, Cory Session, the brother of Tim Cole of Fort Worth, who was posthumously exonerated of rape charges, shouted at state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place, after she voiced opposition to HB 166.

Under the bill, which is pending in committee, the commission's governor-appointed members would investigate wrongful convictions, identify why they occur and examine appeals filed with the state’s courts for evidence of ethical violations by attorneys and judges.

Session, who works with the Innocence Project of Texas, accused Huffman, a former prosecutor and criminal court judge, of standing in the way of reforms to prevent wrongful convictions. "The attitude you have is deplorable," he said to Huffman. "I am sickened."

After shouting at Huffman that she should "get another job," Session stormed out of the room, muttering “b----” before slamming a door behind him.

Huffman said Thursday that Session's outburst was unprofessional and disrespectful, but she said she hadn't urged the other six members of the committee to vote against the bill in her defense.

"I thought it was just inappropriate behavior from a person in that position," Huffman said, adding that the incident hadn't changed her opinion that the bill is unnecessary. Huffman has said that legislators have already accomplished much of what is needed to review wrongful convictions through other legislation that has already passed.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said he had always been a 'no' on the bill, but he declined to say why. He said that Huffman didn't recruit him to vote against the measure.

Ellis said he would continue working to get support for the bill.

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