Texas Judicial Branch
AUSTIN – The Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission published its report and list of recommendations to the 85th Legislature today. The Commission’s recommendations include proposals to make legislative changes to electronic recordings of interrogations, false accusation/informant regulations, faulty eyewitness identification and forensic science practices.
The 84th Legislature created the Commission through HB 48 to review and consider various matters related to wrongful convictions within the Texas criminal justice system. The Legislation was authored by Representative Ruth Jones McClendon (San Antonio) and sponsored by Senator Rodney Ellis (Houston). The Commission is named after Timothy Cole, the first Texan to be posthumously exonerated of a crime through DNA testing.
Representative John Smithee of Amarillo chaired the 11-member commission, which also included 4 expert advisory members that work to exonerate individuals who have been wrongfully convicted.
"I was pleased to chair this important Commission and am pleased with the work of the members of the Commission,” said Representative Smithee. “The members dedicated numerous hours of their time over the past 18 months to contribute to these important recommendations. We now pass along our work and recommendations to the Legislature for its consideration.”
The Commission reviewed more than 200 exonerations that occurred in Texas from January 1, 2010 through December 1, 2016. Members heard from exonerees; surveyed judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and law enforcement agencies across Texas; reviewed case studies; and analyzed exoneration data from Texas and across the country to develop its recommendations.
“Commission membership was very diverse and represented all corners of the criminal justice system,” said David Slayton, Executive Director of the Texas Judicial Council, which provided staff support to the Exoneration Commission. “Their expertise was essential in developing proposals to address how the state can improve to prevent wrongful convictions.”
The Commission’s full report is available for download. Pursuant to statute, the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission was abolished on December 1, 2016, the date on which the members approved publication of its report.
About Timothy Cole
Timothy Cole was a U.S. Army veteran and student at Texas Tech University. At the age of 26, he was accused of rape. He was later convicted in 1986 by a Lubbock County jury for sexual assault. While in prison, Mr. Cole was offered parole if he would admit guilt, but refused to confess to a crime he did not commit.
In 1995, Texas prisoner Jerry Wayne Johnson began writing letters confessing to the crime for which Mr. Cole had been convicted. At the time, Mr. Johnson was serving life in prison for two other 1985 sexual assault charges. DNA testing of biological evidence collected from the crime scene excluded Mr. Cole and implicated Mr. Johnson as the perpetrator. Mr. Cole passed away in 1999 of asthma complications while serving his sentence.
On April 7, 2009, nearly 10 years after his death, Timothy Cole became the first posthumous DNA exoneration in Texas history. On March 1, 2010, Mr. Cole was pardoned by Texas Governor Rick Perry.