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January 15, 2005 - The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (TX)

Coleman Convicted Of Perjury

Jury Recommends Probation For Former Tulia Drug Agent

By D. Lance Lunsford

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Perhaps, it was already decided that Tom Coleman would never work in law enforcement again because of his 1999 flawed undercover drug bust in Tulia, leading to his own aggravated perjury charges.

A jury completely annihilated the possibility of continuing any such career late Friday when it handed down a guilty verdict and seven years in prison for Coleman.

The sentence offered a brief, shining moment of happiness for former Tulia defendants in the back of the courtroom, who peered on with hopeful faces.

Then, Judge David Gleason finished reading the verdict.

Joe Don Buckner/Avalanche Journal Tom Coleman, the former under cover investigator at the center of the 1999 Tulia drug bust, heads to court Friday morning for the final day of his perjury trial, which was convicted of one of two accounts of perjury.

Indeed, as quickly as their glee erupted, it just as soon faded when they learned of the jury's recommendation to probate the sentence.

The judge will later rule on the length and terms of the probation.

Coleman was convicted on one count of aggravated perjury relating to a March 2003 writ of habeas corpus hearing where he told a judge he did not know of Cochran County theft charges against him prior to Aug. 7, 1998.

He was acquitted of a second count of aggravated perjury relating to whether he knew he put gasoline into a private vehicle from a county-owned pump.

"Ask not, Mr. Coleman, for whom the bell tolls,'' urged prosecutor Rob Hobson in his closing remarks, walking toward the defense table and looking grimly at Coleman. "The bell tolls for you.''

The defense's effort focused on giving Coleman probation for a number of reasons - a major one being his involvement in law enforcement.

"He's a convicted felon,'' said defense attorney John Read. "Mr. Coleman will never be in law enforcement again. He's out. He's history.

"You know and I know he's got a problem if he goes to the penitentiary,'' said Read.

Much of Friday's punishment phase parted ways with the actual issues surrounding Coleman's perjury as the defense tried to turn the sentence to probation and Hobson pushed for jail time. Hobson took advantage of the punishment phase to delve into the Tulia drug defendants and convictions snatched up with the help of Coleman's sole testimony.

To do so, he called Freddie Brookins to the stand.

Brookins, 27, spent three years and eight months in the Texas prison system before he was released - finally pardoned more than a year ago of a drug crime he did not commit.

On Friday, Brookins took the stand, describing the effects of jail time and the accusations. The defense, said Hobson, used the opportunity to question Brookins to their own advantage, pitting blacks against whites. Of the 46 arrests in the bust, 39 were of black defendants.

The defense's effort largely centered on claims the Tulia drug defendants were all guilty in spite of their pardons.

"What happens when you do that and bust drug dealers?'' Read asked jurors. "You have to come down here and answer for it.''

At one point, defense attorney Kirk Lechtenberger pointed to the back of the courtroom where many of the Tulia defendants were watching the trial.

"Why do you think they're all watching this?'' Lechtenberger said, alleging the case against Coleman was retribution for the Tulia bust. "Because a long time ago, doing what he thought was right ... because he's white ...''

Lechtenberger was cut off by an objection from Hobson, which was sustained by Gleason.

"That's offensive,'' said a stunned onlooker in the gallery.

The jurors - 10 whites and two Hispanics - were quick to make each of their decisions on convictions and jail time, spending a little less than three hours deliberating.

Many of the Tulia defendants and residents waited for the punishment late Friday, talking about the case and the fact that little about Coleman or his perjury case has changed their town.

"In Tulia, it's bigger than Tom Coleman,'' said Gerrod Ervine, 23, who was convicted in the Tulia sting. "It's a system. They just got one of their soldiers (Coleman.)''

With most of the case serving as a post-mortem media feeding frenzy, the search for answers to questions left over spilled into the fifth floor of the Lubbock County Courthouse where attorneys reflected on the legal effort in the case.

As many of the questions focused on whether any other justice might be sought for the drug bust gone awry, Hobson said he was happy with getting more information out about what happened in Tulia.

"I think the people know a lot more about what happened in Tulia than they did before this case started,'' he said.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart testified.

In the midst of his testimony, Hobson asked Gleason to appoint an attorney for Stewart because of potentially perjurious testimony.

Although nothing more was said about Stewart's statement, Hobson said determining whether Stewart lied on the stand would be up to Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney Bill Sowder and a grand jury.

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