What began as testimony on a bill to create an exoneration review commission ended with an angry outburst from the brother of Timothy Cole, one of Texas’ most well-known wrongfully convicted people.
Timothy Cole died in prison in 1999 while serving a 25-year sentence for a rape he did not commit. He was incarcerated when he died, and became the first posthumously exonerated person in Texas.
Cole’s brother, Cory Session, testified before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee yesterday in support of House Bill 166 that would set up the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission. His anger stemmed from comments State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, made before public testimony began on HB 166.
Sen. Huffman said Texas does not need to set up a commission to review wrongful convictions after exonerations. She also read a list of past legislation that she said have reformed the Texas criminal justice system in Texas sufficiently.
"Again, these are just a few I was able to pick out," she said. "We did not need yet another layer of a commission to go through and look at this once again. I can't speak for the prosecutors who are out here … but I strongly oppose creating yet another commission to second-guess what has been done."
But Session strongly disagreed.
“Time is running out. You've got to do something," he said. "…I'm sick of the state screwing people, screwing all of these gentlemen. I'm tired of it. Keep your mind closed if you will but damn it, you need another job!"
So far, HB 166 has survived the House but its passage in the Senate is far from certain.
Authored by State Rep. Ruth McClendon, D-San Antonio, and State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, this bill would allow the commission to make recommendations to prevent future wrongful convictions. It would not be allowed to relitigate a case.
Sen. Ellis, who chairs the board of the Innocence Project, told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that he has watered down the bill so much to please his Republican counterparts in the upper house that he almost "can't drink it." He's working to get a two-thirds majority in the Senate to support HB 166 so that it will go to Gov. Rick Perry's desk.
He also told Sen. Huffman he'll do whatever it takes for her to support the bill.
"Texas has had a total of 117 exonerations. DNA in Texas amount to 48. That's more than any other state in the country," Ellis said.