A Texas city publicly atones for what it did to an innocent man

12/21/2013 12:00 AM

12/21/2013 9:24 AM

Lubbock is not the first Texas city in which a painful injustice has been inflicted on a black man, and it’s not likely to be the last.

But this northwestern Texas town of 236,000 may be the first to acknowledge so publicly and dramatically that a horrible mistake was made there, and then memoralize the victim in such a way that he becomes part of the public dialogue on injustice and perhaps will serve as an inspiration to young students for generations to come.

The story of Timothy Cole has become a familiar one, not only around the state but around the country.

A young man from Fort Worth, Cole enrolled at Texas Tech in 1985, a time when Lubbock was much different from what it is now. That same year he was arrested for rape, later convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

He was innocent.

Years later, the Lubbock County District Attorney’s Office ignored confessions from the true rapists who tried to clear Cole. And even when DNA evidence proved his innocence, authorities resisted acting on it.

Cole, who died in prison after serving 13 years, became the first person to be pardoned posthumously in the state of Texas, has had his name on two pieces of landmark legislation and now has a state historical marker at his grave site telling his story.

At the funeral of his mother, Ruby Cole Session, who had worked tirelessly to clear his name until her death in October, Lubbock City Councilman Todd Klein spoke on behalf of his city.

Klein, who had written a letter to Gov. Rick Perry supporting a pardon for Cole, has led an effort to honor him in the city that robbed the student of his youth and his dreams.

This month the Lubbock City Council named a park for Cole and, through a public-private partnership, a bronze statue has been commissioned to be placed there.

The park is strategically located at 19th Street and University Avenue, one of the highest-traffic corners in the city, said attorney Kevin Glasheen, who is funding the larger-than-life sculpture.

Glasheen, a graduate of Texas Tech Law School, wasn’t aware of the rape case that occurred years earlier or the fact that he had a class with Cole’s younger sister, now city attorney in Austin. In his practice he has represented many of the DNA exonorees in the state.

Klein, Glasheen and the artist, Eddie Dixon, talked about how impressed they were with the Cole family, especially a mother who was willing to forgive her son’s accuser.

“Ruby Session is one of my heroes in life,” Glasheen said. “She took the worst insult, tragedy and suffering a person could suffer, and made something positive out of it.”

Lubbock needed to acknowledge the mistake, Klein said, “for the family’s benefit and the public’s as well. … It led to my suggesting we need to do something to recognize Tim’s life and his legacy.”

Klein points out that the statue will be across the street from the Texas Tech campus and near the site of the crime for which Cole was wrongfully convicted. Its positioning will have “his gaze fixed toward the Texas Tech Law School,” which Klein hopes law students will see and talk about.

Artist Dixon, who also went to graduate school at Tech (before Cole got there), said the sculpture project is personal for him.

“It became very real to me,” he said, “because I know it could have happened to any of us. … It could have been me, or my brother.”

The 12-foot-tall sculpture will depict a nine-foot image of Cole holding law books in front of a background of fragments from the Pledge of Allegiance. He stands on a step with the inscription, “Justice for All.”

As to why this sculpture is important, Dixon said: “People need to be reminded, lest they forget.”

About Bob Ray Sanders

Bob Ray Sanders

@BobRaySanders

Bob Ray Sanders is often criticized for writing about things he could not have experienced because, some readers say, "he can't be that old." The truth is Bob Ray has been a professional journalist for 40 years and in three media: newspaper, television and radio.

A Fort Worth native who knows and cares about his community, and those with whom he shares this planet, this is a columnist who is not afraid to speak out on behalf of downtrodden people or the abused Earth.

Email Bob Ray at bobraysanders@star-telegram.com.

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