Senate Passes Tim Cole Act to Improve Compensation for Wrongfully Convicted and Their Families
HB 1736 ensures justice for those posthumously exonerated
(Austin) — The Texas Senate today passed HB 1736, the Tim Cole Act, legislation to improve compensation for the wrongfully convicted and ensure justice for wrongfully convicted Texans who have died in prison.
The legislation, by Senators Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) and Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), provides compensation for family members of wrongfully convicted Texans who have been posthumously exonerated, and increases compensation levels for other exonerees.
"The Tim Cole case 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."
"It is a tragedy that brought House Bill 1736 to the Senate floor today, but the grace and dignity that Mr. Cole's family demonstrated while leading this important cause would surely make him proud," said Senator Duncan. "As a result of their efforts, Tim Cole's untimely death was not in vain. Criminal justice in Texas will be more fair and compensation for those wrongly convicted will be more adequate because the Legislature responded to Mr. Cole's terrible and sad struggle."
HB 1736 would:
- Increase the lump sum compensation for all exonerees from $50,000 to $80,000 per year of incarceration, including time spent in city or county jail. Current compensation only applies to time in a TDCJ cell, but not another kind of cell.
- Allows the lump sum compensation to pass to the family in the event the innocent person dies before release, as Timothy Cole did.
- Allows lump sum compensation of $25,000 per year spent on parole or registered as a sex offender.
- Creates lifetime annuity payments to the exoneree based on a present value of the lump sum compensation, annuitized using a 5% interest rate and payable in equal monthly installments using actuarial factors.
- Provides up to 120 hours of free tuition if the claimant desires to attend a state college.
- As under current law, a person who receives a subsequent felony conviction loses their eligibility for compensation. Any annuity payments would cease.
- Any person who accepts state compensation must give up any civil suit against the state, municipalities or other parties.
Tim Cole was a veteran, loving son, and student at Texas Tech University when he was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1985. He maintained his innocence until he died in prison of an asthma attack in 1999. The real rapist, Jerry Johnson, attempted to confess as early as 1995 and was finally successful at getting the attention of authorities in 2007 after he sent a letter to Tim Cole's mother. In 2008, DNA testing exonerated Tim Cole and implicated Mr. Johnson.
On February 4, 2009, the House of Representatives and the Senate passed resolutions honoring Tim Cole. On February 6, Cole was officially exonerated when Travis County District Judge Charlie Baird announced "to a 100 percent moral, factual and legal certainty" that Timothy Cole did not commit the crime which sent him to prison.
"I offer my sincere condolences and deepest sympathies to Tim Cole's family for the 13 long years he was forced to suffer in prison for a crime DNA proved he did not commit, and for the decade plus they fought to clear his name,' said Senator Ellis. "I hope that this legislation will help them finally find the peace they have so difficultly earned."