In bronze relief, a young Tim Cole looks toward the Texas Tech University Law School. He is holding two books and on the binding of one are the words “Lest We Forget.”
The base of the sculpture reads “And Justice For All.”
Cole didn’t get justice.
But because of his family’s persistence, he is not forgotten, and his legacy is written into Texas law.
“The arc of justice is long, but for our family, it bends toward Lubbock today,” Cole’s brother, Cory Session, told a crowd of more than 400 who gathered Wednesday for the dedication of the statue honoring Cole.
Among the politicians speaking at the event were Gov. Rick Perry and the two leading candidates for his job — Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis of Fort Worth. Lieutenant governor candidates Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte also spoke.
Cole, an Army veteran from Fort Worth, was wrongly convicted on Sept. 17, 1986, of raping a Texas Tech student. He always maintained his innocence but died in prison in 1999 when he was 39. He is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Fort Worth.
In 2010, Perry pardoned Cole after DNA tests proved that Jerry Wayne Johnson committed the crime, making Cole the only Texan ever exonerated posthumously.
Cole’s relatives tried for years to clear his name. They found new hope when Johnson, who was serving time for other rapes, sent a letter to Cole at his mother’s address in Fort Worth in 2007 — thinking Cole was alive and out on parole.
His mother, Ruby Session, met with lawmakers and Perry to change laws affecting those wrongly convicted. Ruby Session died in October.
She always showed “grace and persistence,” Perry said Wednesday.
“She was an individual of profound faith and love, and there was no way she was not going to clear her son’s name.”
The 13-foot bronze relief sculpture is on the corner of 19th Street and University Avenue. The torso faces the church parking lot where Michele Mallin was kidnapped before she was sexually assaulted in 1985. She identified Cole in photo lineups but later acknowledged the error and apologized to the family.
In 2009, Perry signed the Tim Cole Act into law. It boosted lump-sum payments to those imprisoned wrongfully to $80,000 a year. Also in 2009, lawmakers established the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions. The panel assisted the Task Force on Indigent Defense in conducting a study and preparing a report on the prevention of wrongful convictions.
Johnson is serving life in prison for separate rapes. He cannot be prosecuted for the rape that sent Cole to prison because the statute of limitations has expired.
After the statue was unveiled, family members and friends softly sang We Shall Overcome.
“I think this proves that anything can happen,” Cory Session said. “If we can do this, there’s nothing we can’t do.”