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May. 27, 2009 -- Star-Telegram (TX)

Tim Cole Act, Raising Compensation For Wrongful Convictions, Is Signed Into Law

By Jim Vertuno, Associated Press

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive


AUSTIN -- People who are sent to prison for crimes they did not commit will get more money from the state as compensation under a bill Gov. Rick Perry signed into law Wednesday.

The new law boosts lump-sum payments from $50,000 to $80,000 for every year of confinement and grants an annuity to provide a lifetime of income.

Exonerees would get 120 hours of paid tuition at a career center or public college.

The law is named the Tim Cole Act. Cole, of Fort Worth, died while serving time for a rape that DNA testing later showed he did not commit.

Perry, who met privately with Cole's family in April, called the bill a "necessary and appropriate measure to amend the miscarriage of justice."

Perry signed the bill on the same day that Jerry Lee Evans of Dallas was released after spending 23 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.

DNA test results that came back this month excluded Evans in the rape of an 18-year-old Southern Methodist University student.

DNA testing has exonerated about 40 former inmates in Texas, the most in the nation, according to the Innocence Project.

Overall, Texas has paid about $9 million to 46 people who were wrongly convicted.

"You can never make these innocent men whole," said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, who sponsored the measure.

"They have lost important years of their lives. They have lost spouses. And children have grown up without their fathers. We can't make them whole, but we can do better."

The law does have restrictions. If exonerees take the money, they give up their right to sue the state. And they will lose the money if they are convicted of another felony.

Cole died in 1999 at age 38 of complications from asthma. He always maintained his innocence, even when taking responsibility for the crime might have earned him parole.

Cole, a military veteran and college student who was the son of a Bell Helicopter manager and a schoolteacher, was convicted of raping a Texas Tech University student in Lubbock in 1985.

His claims of innocence were ignored by the judicial system until evidence from the original rape kit was tested last year.

The tests cleared Cole and connected the crime to Jerry Wayne Johnson, who is serving life in prison for separate rapes.

Cole was the first posthumous DNA exoneree in Texas history, and the rape victim in his case joined his family in trying to clear his name.

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