Sen. Rodney Ellis Applauds Attorney General Opinion Recognizing the Governor's Power to Issue Posthumous Pardons
(Austin, TX) — Today Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion that recognizes the power of the Governor to grant posthumous pardons. Senator Rodney Ellis requested the opinion on July 14 in the hopes of giving the Governor latitude to issue a pardon of innocence for Timothy Cole, who died in prison in 1999 but was exonerated by Judge Charles Baird in April 2009.
Sen. Ellis is also the Chairman of the Board of the New York-based Innocence Project, which assisted the Innocence Project of Texas in Judge Baird's "court of inquiry."
"I applaud General Abbott for finding that the Governor has the power to issue posthumous pardons and bring justice to Texans who have died before their innocence can be proven," said Sen. Ellis. "I spoke with Tim Cole's brother, Cory Session, and Tim's mother, Ruby Session to discuss the good news earlier today. They are happy to know that Tim can finally have his name cleared and his reputation restored."
"Tim was a loving son and brother, a veteran, and a good man," Sen. Ellis continued. After speaking with the Governor's office and Rissie Owens, Chairwoman of the Board of Pardons and Parole, it is clear that this opinion has given the Governor the opportunity to right the wrongs done to Tim Cole and his family."
Sen. Ellis asked for the Attorney General opinion in July because it wasn't absolutely clear that the Governor could issue posthumous pardons. A 1965 Attorney General opinion stated that an individual must accept a pardon, and as such, a pardon could not be issued to a deceased person because they could not accept it. That legal reasoning was abandoned by the Supreme Court in 1974, and since then nine states have issued posthumous pardons on at least ten separate occasions and Presidents Clinton and Bush have both granted posthumous pardons.
In the last legislative session, legislation was enacted to increase compensation for the wrongfully convicted, as well as grant compensation for family members of someone who has been posthumously pardoned. A joint resolution that would have put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to specifically authorize the Governor to grant posthumous pardons did not pass, leaving the issue up in the air.
Due to gridlock at the legislature, other bills in Sen. Ellis' "Innocence Protection Package" related to the Tim Cole case and wrongful convictions also did not pass. Most importantly, SB 117, which would have reformed the state's eyewitness identification procedures, got very close to passing but did not get a vote by the full House. Tim Cole was convicted because of an erroneous eyewitness identification. A bill to establish the Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions was sponsored by Sen. Ellis and Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon and enacted this past session. The advisory panel will be examining state policies on eyewitness identification, recording interrogations, post-conviction DNA testing, and other ways of preventing wrongful convictions and making policy recommendations to the legislature to be considered in the 2011 session.
"I can think of no better way to start the new year than the Governor granting Tim Cole a posthumous pardon. General Abbott has given Governor Perry a wonderful opportunity to give Tim Cole's family a beautiful gift to ring in a new decade: the gift justice and redemption for Tim Cole."