BETSY BLANEY, Associated Press
LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Texas officials and relatives of a young man who 28 years ago to the day was falsely convicted of raping a Texas Tech student came together Wednesday to honor the U.S. Army veteran.
A bronze relief memorial sculpture on a street corner not far from where the victim was abducted was dedicated to Timothy Cole to memorialize all he endured — his wrongful conviction in Lubbock and subsequent 13 years in prison.
Gov. Rick Perry pardoned Cole in 2010 after DNA tests proved another man committed the crime, making Cole the only Texan ever exonerated posthumously.
“The arc of justice is long, but for our family it bends toward Lubbock today,” Cole’s brother, Cory Session, told the crowd of more than 400 people who heard from Perry and numerous legislators who attended the event.
Cole was 39 when he died in prison in 1999. He always maintained his innocence, even as Lubbock prosecutors offered a plea agreement and opportunities for parole.
Cole’s family tried for years to clear his name. It wasn’t until an inmate serving time for other rapes sent a letter to Cole at his mother’s address in 2007 — thinking Cole was alive and out on parole — that Cole’s family found new hope.
The family matriarch and Cole’s mother, Ruby Session, who lived in Fort Worth, met with lawmakers and Perry to make changes in laws affecting those wrongly convicted. Ruby Session died in October. She always showed “grace and persistence,” Perry said.
“She was an individual of profound faith and love, and there was no way she was not going to clear her son’s name,” he said.
In 2009, Perry signed the Tim Cole Act into law. It boosted lump-sum payments to those imprisoned wrongfully to $80,000 a year. Also in 2009, lawmakers established the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions. The panel assisted the Task Force on Indigent Defense in conducting a study and preparing a report regarding the prevention of wrongful convictions.
Gubernatorial candidates state Sen. Wendy Davis and Attorney General Gregg Abbott and lieutenant governor candidates state Sens. Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte also gave remarks.
The statue depicts Cole looking toward the Texas Tech University Law School; his torso faces the church parking lot where the victim was kidnapped before she was sexually assaulted in 1985. He is holding two books, and on the binding of one reads, “Lest We Forget.”
Cole was convicted on Sept. 17, 1986, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison the next day.
After the statue was unveiled, family members and friends sang “We Shall Overcome” softly.
“I think this proves that anything can happen,” Cory Session said. “If we can do this, there’s nothing we can’t do.”