Timothy Cole was convicted of rape in 1985 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He died there of an asthma attack. Since his death, DNA tests have proven his innocence. On Friday, a judge expunged his record, calling it "the saddest case" he'd seen. From the AP article:
The Innocence Project of Texas said Cole's case was the first posthumous DNA exoneration in state history.
"I have his name," Cole's mother, Ruby Cole Session, said after the hearing. "That's what I wanted."
Cole and his relatives for years claimed he was innocent, but no one believed them until evidence from the original rape kit was tested for DNA. Cole had refused to plead guilty before trial in exchange for probation, and while in prison, he refused to admit to the crime when it could have earned him release on parole.
The Innocence Project pressed for a hearing to start the process of clearing Cole's name. Cole's family now wants Gov. Rick Perry to issue a formal pardon.
Michele Mallin, the rape victim in the case who originally identified Cole as her attacker, said she felt guilty that the wrong man went to prison... Mallin, now 44, has come forward publicly to help clear Cole's name.
The case serves as a grim reminder of the imperfections of America's legal system, and could be used as a springboard for reformers. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram calls it a "perfect storm" for reform.
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, already has introduced several criminal justice reform bills including one to increase the accuracy and reliability of eyewitness identification procedures.
Attorneys associated with the Innocence Project of Texas said that 82 percent of the DNA exonerations in Texas were largely or exclusively due to incorrect witness identification and that 95 percent of those in Dallas were the result of faulty procedures.
But even with those startling statistics, Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas, and others said that 88 percent of the police departments in the state don’t have eyewitness identification policies.
That all needs to change, and Cole's case underscores the fierce urgency of the situation. Many others are no doubt languishing behind bars because of lax procedures and protections. Cole was a victim of the system, but we can work to prevent others from becoming victims.
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