Railroaded By Lies

This week, the Austin American Statesman calls upon the Texas governor to give immediate and absolute pardons to 38 black Tulia residents sent to prison on the lies of one racist cop; Maryland's governor signs a "controversial" bill to reduce penalties for sick and dying medical marijuana patients, despite fierce opposition from the White House; and New York City police make their second mistaken address drug raid in two weeks.

May 21 -- The Austin American Statesman opines: Thirty-eight residents of Tulia were railroaded on a train of lies.

No fewer than two dozen instances of "perjured and misleading testimony" are detailed in the "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law" filed this month with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

The findings represent facts and recommendations by special prosecutors, defense lawyers and a district judge regarding the 38 Tulia residents who were convicted of drug trafficking in 1999 and 2000. The findings -- and their stark revelations -- stem from court-ordered evidentiary hearings in March. Even special prosecutors are convinced that Tulia residents were wrongly convicted. All agree that convictions of the 38 should be thrown out.

That towering conclusion was built on former undercover police officer Tom Coleman's deceit. Coleman provided testimony that resulted in the arrests of 46 Tulia residents on drug trafficking charges in 1999. Thirty-nine of those are African American, about 10 percent of Tulia's black population. After the arrests, 38 people were convicted, and many were sentenced to prison from 20 years to 90 years.

All the convictions hinged on Coleman's word. There was no corroborating evidence or witnesses to back up Coleman's allegations. Coleman, who was indicted last month on felony perjury charges in connection with the case, is free while awaiting trial. Meanwhile, 13 Tulia defendants have suffered in prison since their arrests.

We again urge the Legislature to quickly approve Sen. John Whitmire's bill, Senate Bill 1948, which would authorize bail for the Tulia 13. Their continued imprisonment is a cruel insult to justice. The 12 men and one woman have suffered enough in the 4 1/2 years they've been unjustly severed from the lives that Coleman's lies destroyed. It is simply incredible that the government that was so quick to lock them up is so slow to set them free.

May 22 -- The Washington Post reports: Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. today signed a bill to dramatically reduce penalties for cancer patients and others who smoke marijuana to relieve suffering, despite fierce lobbying from the White House and many of his conservative supporters.

The measure would set a fine of $100 for using marijuana out of "medical necessity." Possession otherwise carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Supporters of the legislation say marijuana offers relief from pain and nausea to people sickened by cancer, AIDS and other illnesses or by medical treatments such as chemotherapy.

May 23 -- The New York Post reports of a second police drug raid on a wrong address in two weeks: Residents of a Bronx building are outraged after getting an unexpected morning "greeting" yesterday from a police drug squad, which burst into their homes, waved guns at children and then left after finding nothing. "At 7:50 a.m., they burst down the door to the building," said Joe Celcis, a teacher whose mother and sister live in the home.

"After an hour and a half, they said, 'Sorry wrong house,' and left." The cops were armed with a warrant that allowed them to search all the units at 3629 Olinville Ave., a four-family apartment building.

They smashed open a door, handcuffed several people and put a gun in the face of 12-year-old Jennifer Espady before going though everyone's belongings, witnesses said.

"They came in with guns drawn and pushed me," Jennifer said. The cops were looking for two handguns, a pile of marijuana and evidence of a pot-selling operation. They found nothing.

An NYPD spokesperson said that cops stand by their decision to raid the building, and noted that two simultaneous raids in the same neighborhood both uncovered drug dealing and led to seven arrests.

The spokesperson said the information that led them to 3629 Olinville Ave. was "accurate," unlike a May 16 raid in which a bogus tip led cops to the home of 57-year-old church volunteer Alberta Spruill, who died of a heart attack after a stun grenade was tossed into her home.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

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