Ruby Cole Session won exoneration for her son Tim Cole after he died in prison

Posted Friday, Oct. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Funeral Noon Oct. 19 at Saintsville Baptist Church in Fort Worth. Burial: Mount Olivet Cemetery next to her son Tim Cole and her husband, DeWitt Session.

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When Ruby Cole Session met with Gov. Rick Perry in April 2009, some people told her it was a waste of time.

Her son Tim Cole had been wrongly convicted of sexual assault and died in prison, and there were those who said Perry wouldn’t be sympathetic to her cause.

But after that first encounter, Mrs. Session was confident that Perry would sign the Tim Cole Act, which compensates wrongly convicted people and also created the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions, which was designed to help reverse other wrongful imprisonments.

“My mother said: ‘No, no, no. I felt his heart. He’ll sign it’,” said her son Cory Session of Fort Worth.

Mrs. Session died Thursday at her home in Fort Worth of an aneurysm, Cory Session said. Her 77th birthday was Sunday.

After his initial meeting with Mrs. Session, Perry publicly supported the family’s effort to clear Cole’s name but questions remained about whether the governor had the constitutional authority to grant posthumous pardons.

In January 2010, state Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion that Perry could do so. In March 2010, Perry came to Fort Worth and signed the pardon in the presence of Mrs. Session and her family.

In 2009, a Travis County judge had ruled that DNA results cleared Tim Cole of the 1985 sexual assault of a Texas Tech student. Another man, Jerry Wayne Johnson, had sent a letter to Mrs. Session confessing to the crime in 2007.

Cory Session said his mother’s proudest moment came in February 2012 when a state historical marker was dedicated to Cole, the first in Texas to a man who died in prison.

The marker briefly describes how Cole, an Army veteran and Texas Tech University student, ended up in prison and was later cleared because of the work of the Innocence Project of Texas; Michele Mallin, the woman who was raped by Johnson; and Cole’s family.

Mrs. Session was honored on the floor of the Texas Senate in May for her achievements as an educator, criminal justice reformer and a “fierce champion of the wrongly accused.”

The Senate resolution, introduced by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, praised Mrs. Session’s campaign for her son’s innocence.

“I’ve never had an honor bestowed on me before, other than Mother’s Day,” she told the Star-Telegram. “It’s truly an honor.”

But Mrs. Session was also proud that Cole’s death helped other wrongly convicted individuals.

“‘He was my sacrificial lamb,’” Cory Session quoted her as saying. “‘I had to give him back to God but, oh, what a purpose he served.’”

Mrs. Session was born Oct. 6, 1936, in Brenham. She graduated from Pickett High School in Brenham and attended Texas Southern University. She had five children with her first husband.

She moved to Fort Worth in 1964 and married her second husband, DeWitt Session, in Fort Worth in 1967.

The following year, she enrolled at Texas Christian University. In 1970, she was among the first 25 African-American women to graduate from TCU. Cory Session said she was modest about the accomplishment.

“‘I wasn’t trying to be first in anything,’” Cory Session quoted her as saying. “‘I was just trying to feed my babies.’”

She became a teacher in the Fort Worth school district, first at Denver Avenue Elementary School. She retired as a first-grade teacher from Morningside Elementary in 1988.

During the 1980s, she and her husband also owned Karen’s Hair and Beauty Salon. But after Cole’s arrest, she focused on his plight and encouaged Cory Session, who also had taken up the cause.

“I would say, ‘Mama, I’m so tired,’” Cory Session said. “And she would say ‘You keep going. God will go with you. You go because the others can’t go.’”

Other survivors include sons Reginald Kennard of Washington, D.C., Kevin Kennard, Rodney Kennard and Sean Session, all of Fort Worth; a daughter, Karen Kennard of Austin; three stepdaughters; and 10 grandchildren.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698 Twitter: @fwhanna

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