In the small town of Tulia, just 80 miles north of Lubbock, a big case has reached a milestone. After spending four years in prison, today (Monday) 12 people were released on bond. They are among 46 people, mostly African American, arrested in 1999 based on the testimony of a single, white, undercover agent. The agent has now been discredited and charged with perjury.
|Names of the 13 Tulia Defendants|
The following 13 people were among the 38 prosecuted in the controversial and racially charged Tulia drug busts in 1999.
Retired District Dallas judge, Ron Chapman, granted bail for the remaining 12 defendants in jail. It was an emotional release.
Freddie Brookins, Sr. has waited four years to touch his son. "I've been saving up all these hugs," said Freddie Brookins, Jr. "C'mon down! We're all family here!," said friend of some of the defendants, Marvin Barrow. He's anxiously waiting downstairs outside the Swisher County Courthouse.
"Retired Judge Ron Chapman granted bail and ordered immediate release of 13 individuals who were wrongfully committed of drug charges in Tulia Texas," said NAACP Legal Defense Fund Assistant Counsel, Vanita Gupta.
21-year-old Gerrodd Ervin was among the 38 people convicted for selling drugs in Swisher County. All 38 convictions came based on the testimony of one undercover Tulia police officer, Tom Coleman. But the court would find Coleman's testimony false. A testimony based on no hard evidence and an investigation that revealed Coleman's racist behavior.
"Not only is he a liar, he's a con artist that's the main thing going on around Tulia," said Ervin.
"Judge Chapman found Coleman to be quote 'the most devious non-responsive law enforcement witness this court has witnessed in 25 years on the bench in Texas," said Gupta.
Prosecution says they are devoted to bringing this travesty to justice. The say there needs to be change with the legal structure in Texas. But the focus of this case is to expose the truth so an incident like this doesn't repeat itself.
"The legislature needs to pass a law requiring corroboration for undercover testimony of undercover officers," said American Civil Liberties Union Police Accountability Director, Scott Henson.
As legal teams work to make those changes, other will pick up were life left them four years ago. "I can move on with my life and complete school," said Kizzie White, one of the 12 released.
Some are saying they're happy this day has come, but won't be satisfied until justice is served, and the innocent can walk away completely free.
Half of the convicted have been free only because they pled guilty to the drug charges. But attorneys are working to overturn all the drug convictions. Tom Coleman is out on $10,000 bond. He's been indicted for aggravated perjury.
Governor Rick Perry has asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole to review these 38 convictions to determine if pardons are appropriate.