Sunday, November 9, 2014

Justice, Better Late than Never

At the end of my previous post on Lubbock streets, I mentioned a few people with local connections who I think are deserving of having a street named after them. I left out one person who I believe is more deserving than any.

In the spring of 1985 a serial rapist was terrorizing the Texas Tech campus and surrounding neighborhoods of Lubbock. On March 24, a student named Michele Mallin was attacked in a church parking lot across the street from the university, driven to a field outside of the city, and sexually assaulted. Two weeks after the attack, a 26 year old African-American army veteran and Tech student named Timothy Cole was arrested for the attack. Mallin identified Cole as the attacker first from a photo lineup, then an in-person lineup. The following year, Timothy Cole was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Timothy Cole, from his Wikipedia page

Cole maintained his innocence from the time of his arrest until he died in prison, from complications of severe asthma, in 1999. He was twice offered parole, but refused both times. His conviction was, to put it mildly, dubious. When Mallin viewed the photo lineup from which she identified Cole, his photo was the only polaroid--the others were mugshots--and the only one of the five photos that was in color. Mallin stated that the attacker smoked cigarettes during the assault, but Cole could not smoke due to his asthma. Moreover, Cole's brother and several other witnesses confirmed that he had spent the night of the attack in his apartment studying. And the attack on Mallin fit the pattern of other assaults by the serial rapist, assaults which continued after Cole's arrest and detention.

In 1995, four years before Timothy Cole died, another inmate in the Texas State prison system, Jerry Wayne Johnson, wrote a letter to the police and prosecutors in Lubbock confessing to the rape of Michele Mallin. This letter, and others that followed, were ignored, and Cole died never knowing that another man had confessed to the crime. Finally, in 2007, one of Johnson's letters reached the Innocence Project of Texas, which began an investigation into the case. The Innocence Project attorneys sought, and the following were granted, DNA testing, which ruled out Cole and confirmed Johnson as the rapist.

On March 1, 2010, Texas Governor Rick Perry posthumously pardoned Timothy Cole. Because of the case, two laws were passed, both named for Cole. The Tim Cole Compensation Act awards prisoners wrongly convicted, or their surviving families, $80,000 for every year incarcerated, the most generous compensation package of any state in the US. And the state legislature created the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions, charged with investigating the causes of wrongful convictions, and instructed to present a plan to prevent them going forward. The work of this panel has led to reforms in how local and state law enforcement agencies use eyewitness testimony in criminal cases.

On Wednesday, September 17 of this year, the city of Lubbock unveiled a statue of Timothy Cole, on a patch of land across 19th Street from the Texas Tech Campus. The plot, at one of the busiest intersections in the city, is now named the Tim Cole Memorial Park. At Cole's feet is the inscription "And Justice For All." Cole's body faces the church where the attack took place, while his face is turned toward the Texas Tech Law School, where his sister Karen Kennard earned her law degree as he served his time in prison.

The ceremony unveiling the memorial was attended by numerous political dignitaries, including Governor Perry, State Attorney General Greg Abbott, and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, as well as members of Timothy Cole's family. Also in attendance was Michele Mallin, the victim in the attack, who has recanted her testimony, and joined with Cole's family and the Innocence Project in the effort to exonerate Cole.

The fact that Timothy Cole spent the last years of his life in prison for a crime that he did not commit is a tragic travesty of justice that can never truly be made right. But he has left a legacy that at least tempers the wrong that was done to him. The legislation passed in his honor has made Texas, surprisingly, one of the most progressive states in the treatment, and the prevention, of wrongful convictions. By freely forgiving Mallin, Cole's family members are continuing the example of dignity that he established during his time in prison. And in working to create Cole's memorial, the city of Lubbock has acknowledged the wrong that was committed and the need to make sure that future injustices are avoided.

The view of the Texas Tech University campus
from the Tim Cole Memorial Park

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