Today's Austin American-Statesman carries the editorial, "Even in death, Cole deserves justice." Here's an extended excerpt:
Why bother holding a criminal court hearing for a man who died in prison more than nine years ago? Because it's the only way to serve justice.
State District Judge Charlie Baird isn't the most popular criminal court judge in Travis County, especially with the prosecutor's office. He is famous for controversial rulings and unusual sentences. But Baird did the right thing in agreeing to hear arguments in the case of Tim Cole, who died in prison in 1999 contending he was not guilty of rape.
Insisting on his innocence, Cole refused a plea bargain that would have kept him out prison for the 1985 rape. He also refused to admit to the crime to win parole while serving a 25-year sentence and died in prison of complications from asthma.
Now DNA evidence and another inmate's confession that he committed the Lubbock rape has thrown doubt on Cole's conviction.
All of the facts point to Cole's innocence. Even the victim who testified that it was Cole who raped her now believes he was innocent of the crime. None of the other victims in a string of Lubbock rapes at that time pointed to Cole as the perpetrator.
Jerry Wayne Johnson has confessed to the rape that sent Cole to prison. He began writing a series of confessional letters 14 years ago. When the Lubbock County district attorney ordered DNA testing on material gathered after the rape, it matched Johnson's DNA. But it is too late for Cole.
Cole's conviction looks like another miscarriage of justice in a Texas courtroom. It is deplorable that the Lubbock court that convicted Cole did not agree to hear the case and help Cole's family seek the exoneration they believe he deserves.
Attorneys for the Innocence Project of Texas took up the cause for Cole's family and sought out Baird to hear the unusual case. If Baird rules that Cole did not commit the rape, it will be the first posthumous DNA exoneration in Texas.
"Texas family fights for man's posthumous exoneration," is the report in USA Today by Kevin Jounson.
His family, who is fighting to clear Cole's name in the 1985 rape of a Texas Tech University student, is convinced his confinement hastened the end of his life at 39.
Last year, long-sought DNA testing implicated another man, Jerry Wayne Johnson, in the crime. Imprisoned on two other rape convictions, Johnson, 49, has confessed to the attack in writing.
Yet the Lubbock court that convicted Cole more than two decades ago has declined to issue a formal exoneration.
On Thursday, Cole's family and lawyers will appear in an Austin courtroom in pursuit of an extraordinary posthumous legal ruling to clear his name. The strategy is unprecedented in Texas and rare in the U.S., say advocates for the wrongfully convicted, who fear others also have died before they could prove their innocence.
"There are others out there, and we'll get them," Jeff Blackburn, Cole's attorney and chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, says of the potential for more cases such as Cole's.
One of many bitter ironies, Blackburn says, is that in 1995 Johnson wrote to Lubbock court officials, confessing his guilt in Cole's case.
Blackburn says Johnson's claims were ignored until the family received a written confession from him 12 years later. He notes the first letter to authorities from Johnson — who is scheduled to appear at Thursday's hearing — came four years before Cole's death.
"As far as I'm concerned, Tim Cole's life could have been saved," he says. "Somebody has to do the right thing."