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Texas Governor Signs Release of 14 Convicted in Drug Raid

June 03, 2003|From Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — More than a dozen people, most of them black, who were sent to prison in a drug case that was built on the word of a discredited undercover agent will be released under a bill signed into law Monday by the governor.

The 1999 drug raid in Tulia resulted in the arrests of 46 residents. Civil rights activists claimed the arrests were racially motivated, and agent Tom Coleman was indicted in April on perjury charges.

"This bill does not make a determination about the innocence or guilt of the Tulia defendants, but it does allow the remaining individuals behind bars to be released until the justice system has finally spoken," Gov. Rick Perry said.

Coleman's uncorroborated testimony resulted in prison terms for many of the 38 people who were prosecuted. Some of the defendants went to trial, while some struck plea bargains after seeing the long sentences being handed down.

The legislation, narrowly tailored to apply to the Tulia case, won overwhelming approval in both chambers of the Legislature. Within about 10 days, the 14 defendants will be allowed to post bail, said state Sen. John Whitmire, one of the backers of the bill.

Previous reports have said there were 13 defendants in prison. Defense attorneys recently learned that a 14th defendant began serving time after probation for the Tulia drug charge was revoked on a charge of child abandonment, said attorney Jeff Blackburn.

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