This must be painful for many
- Tim Cole, Convict Exonerated After Death, Gets Texas Historical Marker
Members of Tim Cole's family gather at his grave after Texas Gov. Rick
Perry pardoned him in March 2010.
By Marice Richter
FORT WORTH, Texas, Feb 12 (Reuters) - The first person in the United
States to be exonerated posthumously on the basis of DNA evidence received a
lasting tribute in his home state of Texas this week.
State officials and the family of the late Tim Cole unveiled the first
Texas historical marker dedicated to an exonerated convict, located in a Fort
Worth cemetery a few feet from the grave where Cole was buried in 1999.
Governor Rick Perry issued Texas' first posthumous pardon to Cole in 2010,
over a decade after he died from complications from an asthma attack while
serving time in prison for a rape he did not commit.
"We finally have something visual that people can see to remember Tim,"
Cory Session, Cole's brother, told Reuters. "We are very pleased and grateful
that Tim's life and legacy will not be forgotten."
Post-conviction DNA testing has exonerated nearly 290 people in the United
States since 1989, including 17 death row inmates, according the Innocence
Project, which works to reverse wrongful convictions. It says that witness
misidentification was a factor in nearly 75 percent of cases.
Of the DNA exonerations nationwide, over 40 have been in Texas, more than
in any other U.S. state.
The Texas marker tells the story of how Cole was convicted in 1986 of
raping a fellow student at Texas Tech University and was sentenced to 25 years
in prison. An Army veteran, Cole served more than 13 years in prison,
steadfastly insisting he did not commit the crime.
He turned down a plea bargain before his trial and a parole opportunity
because he refused to admit guilt.
His family's continued efforts to clear his name were boosted by the
Innocence Project of Texas, which received a letter in 2007 from an inmate
confessing to the crime that Cole was convicted of committing.
Preserved DNA evidence confirmed that Jerry Wayne Johnson - not Cole -
committed the rape. The victim of the attack, Michele Mallin, had identified
Cole as her attacker in a photo and physical lineup but later joined efforts
to bring him justice, said Gary Udashen, president of the Innocence
Project of Texas.
The legal maneuvers to clear Cole's name were successful, and in 2009 he
was cleared in court of the crime "to a 100 percent moral, legal and factual
certainty," the marker reads.
"Tim Cole's case is extremely significant and has made a real difference
in the bringing justice to those falsely convicted in Texas," Udashen said.
The case prompted passage of two laws, including the Tim Cole Compensation
Act, passed by the Texas Legislature in 2009, which provides compensation
to those wrongly imprisoned.
The legislature also created the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful
Convictions to help prevent future such convictions in Texas.
The marker was the result of a two-year effort by Cole's family.
"I was driving my daughter through another cemetery to visit a grave when
we saw a historical marker," said Session, policy director for the
Innocence Project. "I decided right then that's what I wanted for Tim." (Reporting
By Marice Richter; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Cynthia Johnston)
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