Texas lawmakers maintain steady aim at wrongful convictions
Posted on April 22, 2013 at 5:32 PM
Updated Monday, Apr 22 at 9:28 PM
AUSTIN -- For Timothy Cole, justice came too late.
Convicted of the 1985 rape of a college student, he spent 14 years in prison. Cole died nearly ten years before DNA testing cleared his name in 2009.
On Monday, state lawmakers outlined a bill that would create a commission in his name. Filed by state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) and state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), HB 166 would create the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission. The independent commission would be charged with reviewing exoneration cases to find out what went wrong.
For Richard Miles, it all started with a deadly shooting in May 1994. Miles says he was walking home through a North Dallas neighborhood when officers detained him and informed him he was being charged with homicide.
"Seventeen months later I went to jury trial. I received 80 years in prison," Miles told KVUE Monday. "It was ten witnesses, nine of them said I didn't do it. One person said I did."
Miles spent 15 years behind bars before his name was cleared by old evidence found by attorneys with New Jersey-based Centurion Ministries. He says like many exonerees, he wanted answers.
"The questions are like, 'If I knew I wasn't there, how did I end up on the stand? How did somebody pick me out? If I never shot a gun, how are they saying that?'" said Miles, who now works as an advocate for others who have been wrongfully convicted.
It's a story similar to that of Michael Morton, who was exonerated after serving 25 years wrongfully convicted of his wife's murder. A district judge Friday found probable cause the prosecutor in his case tampered with evidence and concealed records.
"Hopefully this will make it somewhat easier and give some motivation to state legislators to pass one of the bills that are before them right now," Morton said Friday. "So hopefully what happened to me doesn't happen to you."
Already this session, the state Senate approved the "Michael Morton Act" requiring prosecutors to share more evidence with defense teams. That bill is now headed to the state House, where lawmakers backing the Cole commission are optimistic the added attention will help more wrongful conviction legislation secure passage.
"I am proudly and unashamedly pro-life, from the womb to the tomb, and I believe that this is a pro-life issue," said Leach. "We have an obligation as a government to protect innocent life."
"I think the legislators are beginning to understand exactly what an injustice has been going on in this state," said McClendon. "How people have been put in prison for crimes they did not commit for decades."