When Governor Bill Richardson abolished the death penalty in New Mexico, he called it the most difficult decision of his political career.
Now, Judge Charlie Baird in Texas has handed down a decision he has called “the most important of my judicial career.” Timothy Cole was convicted in 1985 for the rape of Michelle Mallin and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Cole died in prison in 1999 for a crime that DNA evidence has since proven he didn’t commit, and yesterday he was officially posthumously exonerated in Texas. Judge Baird’s decision is available here.
Judge Baird said, unequivocally, “the evidence is crystal clear that Timothy Cole died in prison an innocent man, and I find to a 100 percent moral, legal, and factual certainty that he did not commit the crime of which he was convicted.” Judge Baird also went on to fault police misconduct, including the deliberate misrepresentation and suppression of evidence for Cole’s innocence during the investigation.
Perhaps most tragic is that, since 1995, four years before Cole died in prison from complications from asthma, Jerry Johnson had been admitting his guilt for the rape of Michelle Mallin. From Judge Baird’s decision:
Worse, however, was the attitude of the courts to [the actual rapist Jerry] Johnson’s claim of guilt. As early as 1995- four years before Tim Cole died- Johnson tried to clear Tim Cole and admit to the rape of Michelle Mallin. His letters were ignored, set aside, and thrown away until one was received by the family of Tim Cole and the Innocence Project of Texas.
We’re glad that this sad story is coming to an end – that the family of Timothy Cole is receiving some sort of justice in the clearing of their son’s name. We hope the criminal justice system can look to Timothy’s case and ask itself, “What can be done to make sure this never happens again?”