Court Ignores Guilty Man's Confession While Innocent Man Dies in Prison

Part one of a three part series tells the story of a Texas Tech sophomore and of other women who were abducted and raped in Lubbock, and of a police investigation that focused on Timothy Brian Cole after he flirted with an undercover police detective. A victim identified Cole's picture in a photo array, then identified him in a lineup. Another victim identified a different suspect who had been arrested earlier. A search of Cole's property found nothing that incriminated Cole, and the forensic evidence was inconclusive.

The one identification was enough to convince the DA he had a good case:

"Is identification a bad way to prove a case?" District Attorney Jim Bob Darnell would ask the jury more than a year after the lineups. "If it is, 90 percent of the people that are in the penitentiary, you just let them go."

The innocent ones, anyway. Cole maintained his innocence, but he was convicted and sentenced to 25 years. Part 2 reveals that the true rapist, Jerry Wayne Johnson, kept silent as Cole went to prison. [more ...]

Cole's lawyer wanted to present evidence at Cole's trial of a similar rape, but it was ruled inadmissible.

He argued the jury should have been allowed to hear the striking similarities between the March rape and another attack in the same parking lot in February. The woman was taken by an attacker fitting the same description and following the same methods.

The victim never identified Tim, and fingerprints recovered from the earlier victim's car didn't match. The circumstances should have raised doubt Tim was involved in almost the same crime more than a month later, Brown argued.

Cole lost his appeals. Ten years after he committed the rape, Johnson decided to confess.

"I knew that I probably couldn't be charged with the crime," he said. "And it had a lot to do with my case and my trials had a lot to do with me not coming forward before that. And that's understandable, but, pretty much I just knew that that was the time, you know, to try and free him."

He asked in a February 1995 court filing to be put in touch with Mike Brown and for a judge to consider a confession he wanted to make. Nine years after Tim went to prison, Johnson wrote the Lubbock district clerk that he had committed the rape keeping Tim behind bars.

Problem solved, right? If you think it's that easy, you haven't been reading TalkLeft for very long.

Five years passed.

Johnson wrote again to a supervising judge. He worried there was an effort to conceal a wrongful conviction. He couldn't understand why the case wasn't being pursued.

"Judge its hard to amagine attorney Mike Brown has made [no] attempt to contact me to start the process of getting information to finally prove his client was in fact innocent but wrongfully convicted," Johnson wrote. "It is more hard to amagine when you look at the documented fact that Mike Brown sought to show at the mans trial that I committed the crime."

The case was transferred in a reshuffling of the courts not long after his letter. In a one-sentence filing issued six months after he asked why nothing had been done, another judge dismissed the case.

"The cause having been transferred to this Court, it is ordered, without necessity of a hearing, that the relief requested in the petition herein is denied."

Tim never knew about the attempted confession. Neither did his family.

Tim Cole died in prison.

Prison conditions took their toll on his asthma. He never managed more than three years without a trip to infirmary units or the Galveston hospital throughout his 13-year prison stay.

Part 3 tells about his family's effort to clear his name. DNA testing finally revealed that Johnson is telling the truth.

The DA who prosecuted the case is now a judge. This is the closest he's going to come to apologizing:

"There's not a whole lot you can say to the point of someone's life being taken, knowing that probably wouldn't have happened but for the fact that he was convicted," Darnell said.
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  • Display: Sort:
    this is texas after all, (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by cpinva on Mon Jun 30, 2008 at 10:40:45 AM EST
    actual guilt or innocence doesn't seem to much matter there.

    ummmmmmmmmmmm........... (none / 0) (#3)
    by cpinva on Mon Jun 30, 2008 at 12:32:36 PM EST
    Why do stories such as these inordinately appear to arise in greater numbers per capita from the state of Texas than from other locales?

    because they're more stupid there? that's the first thing that comes to mind. probably not fair, but if fairness were an issue, this guy wouldn't have died in prison, incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit. boy, good thing he wasn't sentenced to death!

    possibly their cowboy mentality; "string 'em up, ask questions later, if at all." sort of extra-judicial heritage plays a large part.

    aside from that, i have no idea.

    either with us or against us mentality (none / 0) (#4)
    by thereyougo on Mon Jun 30, 2008 at 01:15:57 PM EST
    over there.People who call crooks like Alberto Gonzalez, Judge in deference to his 'stature'. go figure.

    As a taxpayer I fee gipped as a patriot I feel misrepresented by the government.

    It is MO the country is slipping into an abyss of theivery and crookedness that it won't soon recover from.


    Cue "Twilight Zone" theme (none / 0) (#5)
    by QuakerInABasement on Mon Jun 30, 2008 at 01:40:04 PM EST
    the true rapist, Jerry Wayne Johnson,

    Another guy with the middle name Wayne? It's wierd!

    what about the missouri connection? (none / 0) (#6)
    by 3boysgranny on Mon Jun 30, 2008 at 02:57:34 PM EST
    no one noticed that it was a Missouri girl, (probably small town) who insisted this was the guy who attacked her?  having lived in the state for a time I can tell you that i don't find it at all strange that a "nice" white girl from MO might think all black guys looked alike and hence wasn't able to identify her attacker.  all the other victims (according the the article) were able to say he was not the one.

    Only in Texas.... (none / 0) (#7)
    by Rojas on Mon Jun 30, 2008 at 06:33:39 PM EST
    Say it enough and maybe you'll convince yourselves.
    Poor fools.

    do they care enough? (none / 0) (#8)
    by Jen M on Wed Dec 24, 2008 at 09:26:45 AM EST
    to try to convince themselves?

    Tim Cole (none / 0) (#9)
    by grayfox43 on Thu Mar 18, 2010 at 10:37:25 AM EST
    Last year when I first heard the story about Tim Cole, it provided me with the incentive to write about it. So I contacted the Innocence Project of Texas, Tim Cole's mother and family, researched the original trial transcripts and police investigative reports and conducted numerous interviews. Out of this came my forthcoming book titled A PLEA FOR JUSTICE: The Timothy Cole Story, published by Eakin Press, and set for release about May 01, 2010. My thanks to this blog for keeping this issue in front of the American public.