Politics & Government

False conviction bill passes Texas Senate

A family photo of Tim Cole, who died in prison for a crime he did not commit.
A family photo of Tim Cole, who died in prison for a crime he did not commit. Star-Telegram

Cory Session didn’t give up.

Two years after a proposal died in the Texas Legislature that would have created an exoneration commission to study false convictions — and be named for his brother, Tim Cole, a Fort Worth man found innocent of a rape conviction years after he died in prison — it unanimously passed the Senate.

House Bill 48, which creates the Tim Cole Exoneration Review Commission to study wrongful convictions, now heads back to the House of Representatives for consideration of changes made in the Senate.

“Texas takes away the liberty of more citizens through incarceration than any other state in this nation,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who carried the bill in the Senate. “With that power comes the responsibility to make sure we are locking up only the guilty, protecting the innocent, and continuing to make our justice system as reliable, fair, and effective as possible.”

The Tim Cole Exoneration Review Commission is geared to bring together experts in the criminal justice field to review proven wrongful convictions, determine the main causes for those convictions and recommend ways to avoid future wrongful convictions.

Ellis described the commission as working in a similar manner to the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates major accidents. In those cases, an in-depth review begins quickly to determine causes and search for ways to avoid a repeat of the accident.

This bill died in 2013 and Session vowed then that he would be back.

“This bill is extremely important,” Session said. “We wanted a standing commission to be created.

“We need to stay on the forefront of criminal justice reform.”

Session has tirelessly fought for years to have his brother — who died of an asthma attack in prison in 1999 — exonerated.

Cole, who died in prison in 1999 while serving a 25-year sentence, was exonerated by a Travis County judge in 2009 after DNA testing cleared him of the 1985 rape of a Texas Tech student. Another man, Jerry Wayne Johnson, had sent a letter to Cole’s mother confessing to the crime.

By 2010, then-Gov. Rick Perry visited Fort Worth and signed a pardon in front of Cole’s family. Two years later, a state historical marker honoring Cole was erected in Mount Olivet Cemetery. He is the first person posthumously exonerated in Texas.

Last year, a statue of Cole was dedicated near Texas Tech University on land renamed Tim Cole Memorial Park. And earlier this month, Texas Tech gave a posthumous honorary bachelor degree in law and social justice to Cole’s family.

Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram