Brief summary: In 1985, Texas Tech student Michele Mallin was raped in a parking lot. She identified Timothy Cole as her attacker, although police had no physical evidence linking him to the crime and he had an alibi that was supported by several eye-witnesses who could prove he was elsewhere at the time. Lubbock law enforcement officials, however, were determined to convict him, which they easily did with the help of Cole’s erroneous identification by the victim and an all-white jury.
In a strange turn of events, Cole’s cries on his first night of prison were heard by the true attacker, who was in prison for another rape. This man, Jerry Wayne Johnson, kept quiet until the statute of limitations ran out, finally coming forward in 1995. By then, no one would listen, and it took until 2007 for Johnson to reach Cole’s family, who sought the help of the Innocence Project of Texas to clear their son’s name.
Today, Michele Mallin will testify in court in defense of Timothy Cole, and will be joined by his family. Sadly, appallingly, this day comes too late for Cole himself, who died in prison in 1999 from asthma that was never properly treated while he was behind bars.
You know when you’re driving how, if you let your mind wander, you have no recollection of driving a piece of the road? Well, you DC residents will shudder to know that this story so engrossed me that I can’t remember anything between Wolf Trap and Herndon on the Toll Road. It is a textbook example of racism at work in the justice system, including: Mallin’s false identification of Cole (which although I believe was extenuated by the trauma of rape and the fact that she was led to believe that the Lubbock police actually had evidence against Cole, still demonstrates how easy it is to misidentify someone); the lack of even a shred of physical or even circumstantial evidence; Lubbock law enforcement’s utter failure to identify that they already had the actual perpetrator in their hands; the prosecution’s demeaning destruction of truthful Cole’s alibi; and an all-white jury. Add the Texas justice system’s refusal to entertain Johnson’s confession and sub-standard medical care to the picture after Cole’s wrongful conviction, and the miscarriage of justice is complete.
If what happened to Timothy Cole was rare, then perhaps I might feel better about the overall state of the U.S. justice system where race is a factor. But as this morning’s NPR program says,
So far this decade, 34 men in Texas, most of them black, have been exonerated byWe have a long, long way to go.
modern DNA testing. They spent 10, 15, 20, even 27 years wrongly imprisoned for
rape before being released.
Hope Deferred: Search for a Lubbock rapist sends family on nightmare journey
Hope Deferred: Tim Cole sat in prison while another man kept silent about the truth ... finally, he tried to confess, but no one would listen
Hope Deferred: Tim Cole's family gets DNA report proving what they always knew