The Causes of Wrongful Convictions

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“If it can happen to Tim, it can happen to anyone.”

That’s what Cory Session — the brother of Tim Cole, the Texas Tech student who was wrongly convicted of rape and who later died in prison — told a conference room full of lawyers, judges and criminal justice policy-makers this morning in Austin at the first meeting of the Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions.

It was ostensibly an organizational meeting. But the first order of business was to hear a powerful speech from Session. Sitting next to other members of Cole’s family at a long conference table, Session described his brother as a young college student who was trying to live the American dream. He spent 13 years in prison — before dying from complications of asthma — for a crime he didn’t commit. 

“This was my brother,” Session said through tears. “This was my mother’s son. He never met my children. He never married.”

Session suggested the flags on all state government buildings be lowered to half-staff on Dec. 2 — the date that Cole died in prison — to commemorate everyone who’s been wrongly convicted.

Cole’s tragic story made national news last year and prodded the Legislature to enact two bills in Cole’s name (one increased compensation for the wrongly convicted and the other created the  panel.)

But much of the discussion at this morning’s two-hour meeting revolved around the reforms that didn’t pass the Legislature this year. That included a bill to reform police lineup procedures — the reform that, had it been in place in 1985, might have saved Tim Cole. It was a witness misidentification due to poor police lineup procedures that sent him to prison (incorrect witness ID is the leading cause of wrongful convictions.)

Grits has an excellent run-down of the major players at the meeting — including an appearance by embattled Judge Sharon Keller – and what they said. (More after the jump.)

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.