House should pass bill on exoneration

Timothy Cole, the Fort Worth student at Texas Tech who never got a chance to graduate because he was arrested in 1985, charged and eventually convicted of rape, will finally get his college degree.

Cole won’t be there to accept, as he died in prison 10 years before he was exonerated in 2009 after another prisoner confessed to the crime and DNA proved that Cole had been wrongly convicted.

In a special ceremony May 15 at the Texas Tech University School of Law, President M. Duane Nellis is scheduled to present posthumously an honorary bachelor’s degree in law and social justice to Cole’s family.

Sadly, in many ways Cole has accomplished more in death than he was able to achieve in his short life, including having his name attached to legislation that granted more money to exonerees.

Another bill, this one creating the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission, is expected to voted on Thursday in the Texas House, which should approve it.

House Bill 48 by state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, calls for a nine-member independent commission under the Texas Judicial Council that would examine all cases in which an innocent defendant was convicted and later exonerated.

The charge of the commission would be “to identify the cases of wrongful convictions and suggest ways to prevent future wrongful convictions and improve the reliability and fairness of the criminal justice system,” according to the Legislature’s bill analysis.

In addition, it would identify “errors and defects in the laws, evidence and procedures in the defendant’s case,” and the Texas criminal justice system generally, as well as consider suggestions to correct the process.

With the number of recently exonerated cases in Texas, it is imperative that the state examine the systemic causes that have led to such miscarriages of justice.

Tim Cole has been honored with a state historical marker and a larger-than-life statue in Lubbock across from the Tech law school.

The way to honor him further is to ensure there will be no more Tim Coles convicted of crimes they did not commit.