Newsbrief: Texas Governor Signs Bill Freeing Tulia 14 6/6/03

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) this week signed legislation that will lead to freedom in a matter of days for the 14 remaining prisoners from the notorious Tulia, TX, drug bust of July 1999. Senate Bill 1948, which passed the Texas Senate last week, will allow the 14 to get out on bail pending a decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on whether they should be retried on the tainted Tulia charges. Thirty-eight people pled guilty or were convicted of small-scale drug sales on the uncorroborated testimony of Swisher County lawman Tom Coleman, whose damning testimony was later found by a specially-appointed judge to "be riddled with perjury and purposely evasive answers" and who has now been charged with perjury.

The arrests, literally decimating the town's African-American population, blew up into a national scandal as local groups such as the Friends of Justice and the Amarillo NAACP were joined by the Texas ACLU, the NAACP, the New York City-based William Moses Kunstler Fund for Social Justice, and a handful of dedicated lawyers systematically unraveled Coleman's cases. The bill was championed in the legislature by state Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) and Rep. Terry Keel (R-Austin).

Whitmire told the Houston Chronicle he will now press for an investigation of the scandal- and abuse-plagued regional drug task forces that have rampaged across the state since the mid-1980s. Alleged perjurer Coleman was working on behalf of the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force when he did his dirty work in Tulia.

The 14 remaining Tulia prisoners should be home within two weeks, but the light shown on police practices and the legal system in Texas has revealed serious and systematic abuses and opened up the Lone Star state's criminal justice system to well-deserved and too long-delayed scrutiny. The reverberations from Tulia will echo across Texas for years to come.

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Issue #290, 6/6/03 Editorial: Courage and Perseverance | Thousands Rally in NYC to Demand Repeal of Rockefeller Drug Laws | Medical Marijuana Cultivator Rosenthal Sentenced to One Day, Plus Probation | DEA Uses RAVE Act Threats to Block Montana NORML/SSDP Benefit | Dems on Drugs: The Presidential Contenders and Their Drug Policies | In a Strong Reversal, Congress Prohibits Drug Czar from Running Ads Against Ballot Measures and Candidates | Newsbrief: Texas Governor Signs Bill Freeing Tulia 14 | Newsbrief: Sentencing Reform -- No in Oklahoma | Newsbrief: Sentencing Reform -- Yes in Missouri | Newsbrief: Feds Reject MPP Complaint Against Drug Czar | Newsbrief: The Next Prohibition? Surgeon General Supports Banning Tobacco | Newsbrief: Belgian Marijuana Decriminalization Now in Effect | Newsbrief: DEA Can't Kidnap People in Other Countries, Federal Court Rules | The Reformer's Calendar

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