Texas Wrestles With Wrongful Convictions

Exoneree Tim Cole
Timothy Cole was wrongly convicted of rape in 1985. He served 13 years in prison, where he died of an asthma attack. He was exonerated last year and now his family pushing the Texas legislature to increase compensation for the wrongfully convicted and to implement safeguards against prosecutorial misconduct.

The Texas house yesterday passed the Tim Cole Compensation Act, named for a wrongly convicted man exonerated years after his death, and the full legislative is expected to approve the bill, reports CBS News correspondent Don Teague in Austin.

The law increases lump sum payments to the exonerated from the current $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of imprisonment - no small matter in the state that leads the nation with 86 DNA exonerations.

The judge's words were simple: "Timothy Cole was, and is, innocent." It was the decision Cole's family had waited two decades to hear.

In 1985, a serial rapist attacked five women near Texas Tech University. Among his victims was then 20-year old sophomore Michelle Mallin.

"It's constantly in my mind all the time," Mallin said recently.

Cole, a 25-year-old college student was convicted, largely because Mallin identified his picture in a photo lineup.

"I honestly thought it looked like him," she said.

A DNA test in 2008 revealed Cole did not commit the rape. And in his final opinion judge Charles Baird concluded Cole was convicted because "evidence was downplayed or deliberately ignored" by prosecutors."

But Cole wasn't in court to hear his name cleared. In 1998, after 13 years in prison, he had an asthma attack in his cell and died.

"Timothy was caring, he loved family, he had high hopes for the future," Cole's mother, Ruby Sessions, told Teague.

In the courtroom, justice may have finally been done for Timothy Cole, but for his family it's not nearly enough. Now they're working the halls of the state capitol to make sure what happened to Cole doesn't happen to someone else.

"My brother, he didn't die in vain, he just didn't," Cole's brother Kevin Kennard said.

The family is pushing reform of the witness identification process, video taping of police interviews, and independent review of cases. But some officials believe the measures are unnecessary.

"There probably isn't any other public servant who isn't subject to more scrutiny and someone else looking at their work before, during and after it's done than a prosecutor," said John Bradley of the Texas County District Attorney Association.

Since 1989 there have been more than 230 DNA exonerations nationwide. In at least 33 of those cases, prosecutorial misconduct was cited as the reason for the wrongful conviction.

Jim Bob Darnell, who prosecuted the Cole case, maintains he acted properly. But, "My feeling was, that someone had just kicked me in the stomach, he said. "I wish we could undo it, but we can't."

"I haven't the slightest idea what Jim Bob Darnell was thinking when he was trying that case. I do know he wanted a conviction," said Corey Sessions, another of Cole's brothers.

What the family wants now is a posthumous pardon from the governor of Texas.