Who is Timothy Cole?


Timothy Cole is the name of a man who once lived on this earth. Tim spent the last 13 years of his life in prison for a crime that he did not commit. When he was 25 years old, he was wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman and spent the next 13 years of his life in prison. I said white woman didn’t I? Does it matter? Well, it shouldn’t matter, but I believe everything matters when you are the one sitting in that chair with (12) jurors staring at you while the witnesses point at you and say, “He is the one, the black man wearing the black suit with the white shirt”.

We could say, “Well, our system isn’t perfect” or “that is just the way it goes sometimes”. But, we won’t do that when it is happening to “one of our own”.

Let’s think about what we are doing between the ages of 25 and 38. I’m leaving Texas Tech about a year before Tim was accused of rape. Tim is enjoying his life as a Tech student. Maybe he is thinking, “Life is good”. He has already served in the military. His parents, a Bell Helicopter manager and a schoolteacher, are proud of their son. Tim has no idea, or thought, that he will ever be accused of rape and be locked up for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, I’ve just experienced one of the best times of my life at Tech. I’m not thinking about the Tim Coles among us because it is all about me, and my life.

Tim is sitting in prison, and I am in Houston going to law school. My purpose is to go get a law degree so I can get out and make some money. Isn’t the money, the reason we live on this earth? The thought of defending Tim or anyone like him doesn’t enter my mind. Tim sits in his cell today as he does everyday, and I’m going to the beach in Galveston; riding my bicycle down the seawall; throwing bread at the seagulls; fishing in Baytown; catching a lot of shrimp; going out with my friends; and spending time with my family. Tim is spending time with his family too. He has a phone at his ear and a glass barrier in between him and his mother. He can see her tears slip down her face. My time with my family is more than a telephone call and I take it for granted. I don’t realize how special it is to be able to hug someone.

We are playing cards and board games at the lake house with my family while Tim is playing cards with other men in prison. The floor is a cold concrete floor with a drain in the middle of it. There is a stainless steel commode without a seat or a privacy door. The toilet paper is worse than what we get at a roadside park, like the one near Benjamin, Texas. Of course, there are no girlfriends or wives as God intended for us.

Well, I’m 29 years old now and have met the girl I’ve hoped for and we are getting married. A few years of living life go by and we have all three of our children now. Time is flying by for me, but Tim’s time is moving slower.

It is 1999 and I’m in Wyoming attending the Trial Lawyer’s College. It is beautiful out here and I’m learning things that I wish I learned in law school. Tim is in prison dying today from being locked up for 13 years, but the prison officials are calling it asthma complications.

On April 7, 2009, Judge Charlie Baird exonerates Timothy Cole. Judge Baird cited poor police work that destroyed, “downplayed or deliberately ignored” evidence showing that Cole did not abduct and rape a fellow Tech student. “The evidence is crystal clear that Timothy Cole died in prison an innocent man, and I find to a 100 percent moral certainty that he did not commit the crime of which he was convicted.” Judge Baird called for reforms to eye-witness identification, prisoner access to scientific evidence that could prove their innocence and compensation for the exonerated. What can money do for Tim and his family now?

Jerry Wayne Johnson, the actual rapist, confessed to the crime by sending letters to prosecutors and judges in 1994, but they were ignored. The innocence project attempted to be heard at a hearing in Lubbock where the case was originally prosecuted, but the judge refused their request. Tim’s family knew they had the rapist’s admission and DNA evidence that proved Tim’s innocence, but couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just say that “Tim is innocent”.

Texas leads the nation with 36 exonerations. Why? How can that be, with all the rights provided by our State and Federal Constitutions? We have the right not to testify; the Presumption of Innocence; the requirement on the Government to prove guilt Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. These words and phrases sound pretty good, but mean very little in our world. Many of us will go to church this Sunday and will be reminded of the unselfish gift of forgiveness. Yet, we live our lives during the week and forget the big picture. We live our selfish lives; we judge others, we hate, and don’t think about what our brothers, like Timothy Cole, are going through. Tim could have accepted the probation offer like many innocent people before him, but he was a man that would not give in to the pressures applied by our “justice system”. I will not forget Timothy Cole.

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One Response to “Who is Timothy Cole?”

  1. cory Session Says:

    My family and I thank you for this article. In a letter to our sister Karen who was at the Texas Tech Law School during this time, Tim told her “Do not leave school I still believe in the justice system, even though the justice system does not believe in me”. Tim Cole was my oldest brother. no matter what happens please keep believing as Tim did. Thank you.

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