Senator Ellis: Cole Case Demonstrates Need for Major Justice Reforms
(Austin, Texas) — Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today praised the expected exoneration of Tim Cole and called on Texas lawmakers to enact major criminal justice reforms to avert future miscarriages of justice wherever possible.
"The expected exoneration of Tim Cole should serve as a wake-up call to Texas," said Senator Ellis. "It is time to get our house in order and enact reforms that, wherever possible, can help avert miscarriages of justice before they happen."
This session, Senator Ellis has introduced an ambitious package of criminal justice reform bills to prevent wrongful convictions and improve the system, including:
- SB 115, to establish an Innocence Commission to investigate wrongful convictions;
- SB 116, to require video recording of custodial interrogations;
- SB 117, to increase the accuracy and reliability of eyewitness identification procedures.
As part of his Innocence Protection Package, Senator Ellis also plans on introducing legislation to enhance indigent defense services and improve compensation for exonerees and their families, including the families of persons posthumously exonerated.
The problem of wrongful convictions has received a flurry of major media coverage in Texas in recent months. The November 2008 edition of Texas Monthly profiled the men who have been exonerated in Texas thanks to DNA evidence. In October, the Dallas Morning News ran a three-part series on the causes of the 19 DNA exonerations out of Dallas County. The Houston Chronicle has continued its excellent coverage of the ongoing challenges at the Houston Police Department crime lab.
"Enough is enough," said Ellis. "Day after day, week after week, we learn of more innocent Texans who have had their lives torn from them in tragic error. It is time for Texas to create an Innocence Commission to launch in-depth investigations each time an innocent person is wrongfully convicted, review what went wrong in these cases, why, and spell out the changes necessary to ensure these injustices are not repeated."
According to the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic and criminal justice legal resource center in New York, 232 people nationwide have been cleared through DNA testing after they were convicted. In Texas 39 men have been exonerated by DNA testing.
"When the State of Texas locks up someone for a crime they didn't commit, it does not just affect one life," said Ellis. "Loved ones and dependents of the wrongfully convicted also suffer. This case is the latest wake up call that Texas needs to take serious action to reform our criminal justice system."