Even while imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, Tim Cole never quit.  He never quit being a big brother to Cory Session, “He would send us letters, telling us what classes to take…to look out for a subscription to Money magazine he was sending us.”  He never quit believing.  He told his sister, Karen Kennard, the only African-American enrolled at Texas Tech’s law school at the time, to not give up on her law degree.

“I still believe in the justice system, even if the justice system doesn’t believe in me,” he once wrote in a letter.

Kennard went on to become the city attorney for Austin, Texas. Cole never quit giving. He used the money he earned from his GI Bill to make thousands of dollars in charitable donations while he served time.

“He knew he couldn’t help himself, but he could help other people,” Session said.

Cole also never quit maintaining his innocence even when he could have been released.  Cole was offered parole in exchange for admitting to the rape.  He refused to confess.

“Tim had the integrity to say, ‘I won’t confess to something I didn’t do,'” former Lubbock City Councilman Todd Klein said. “He refused to take his freedom on the cheap.”

Cole’s brother and college roommate Reggie Kennard said that’s the way Cole was raised, do the right then even when nobody is looking and never admit to something you didn’t do.  Klein was instrumental in seeing the statue erected.

To “remind us of this…moment…The government has enormous power to take one’s life or liberty.  When we make a mistake we should admit to it…”

Cole was a student at Texas Tech when he was wrongfully convicted of the 1985 rape of 20-year-old Michele Mallin.  He was sentenced to 25 years.  In 2009, DNA would have exonerated Cole, but he died 10 years before that at the age of 39 from heart complications caused by asthma.  Even more tragic, the real rapist confessed to police while Cole was still alive, but was ignored.  Then, in 2007, the real rapist, Jerry Johnson finally wrote a letter to Cole confessing and offering to submit to a DNA test to clear him.  Johnson didn’t know that Cole had already passed away. To those who knew him, Texas can never make his wrongful conviction right, but the Lubbock City Council decided instead to make sure that his case is never forgotten.  The city unveiled a statue of the Fort Worth native just across the street from what should have been his alma mater, Texas Tech.  They also named the area the Tim Cole Memorial Park.

The statue stands 13 feet tall.  It depicts Cole facing the area where the crime occurred.  His gaze “looking toward justice” is fixed on the vicinity of Texas Tech’s law school, where future prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges will be reminded that humans are fallible.  A fact that should remain at the top of their minds always, Klein said.  Cole’s statue is holding a book with the words “Lest We Forget”.  Cole’s penny loafers are inscribed with the date of the rape and the date of his death.

timcolestatue

“You will be remembered for the dash,” Session said.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, state Attorney General Henry Abbott and state Senator Wendy Davis were all in attendance with Cole’s family and friends for the dedication. Perry pardoned Cole in 2010.  In 2012, a historical marker was placed at his grave. Mallin, the victim who mistakenly picked Cole out of a lineup was also expected to attend.  After realizing her mistake, she courageously helped to get Cole’s name cleared and has since developed a friendship with Cole’s family.

Even the prosecutor of the case, Judge Jim Bob Darnell attended.

Session said of him, “He has a burden that he has to live with for the rest of his life…He just got it wrong, which so many get it wrong. We all do things wrong, but this is one that you can’t fix.”

Gov. Perry spoke at the dedication, “The story of Tim Cole is a story of inspiration and grace…This statue will serve as a reminder that justice must be tempered with wisdom and that we must all stand vigilant against injustice, wherever it is found.

Davis also spoke of her first meeting with Ruby Cole Session, Tim’s mother.  It occurred during her first week in the Texas Legislature in 2009.

“She was a person of diminutive stature but a giant in every other way,” Davis remembered, “She pressed into my chest a photograph of her son, Tim Cole. She put a face on this issue…urging me in making sure that his life and his death meant something…”

Ruby Session died last year unable to see her son’s memorial dedication.

“He left here with his head bowed and his arms and legs in shackles,” Session said, “Today he returns standing tall, uncompromised…”

The victim recently recalled the pain, guilt, and confusion of injustice following the attack and the posthumous exoneration. Speaking to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Michelle Mallin broke down over the case.

“Michele was crying, she was saying, ‘I’m sorry, Ms. Session, I’m so sorry,’ My mom told her, ‘stop crying’ because she had nothing to be sorry for…it will be OK,’ ” Cory Session said, “It was not her fault…”

Session said when his mother was still alive she told Mallin, “You’re a victim, just like my son…”

After their conversation, the pair visited Tim Cole’s grave.  As they looked at the etched stone, Cole’s mother told Mallin to make peace, “It helped me to have closure,” said Mallin.  Being completely embraced and forgiven by Cole’s family after she realized she identified and sent the wrong man to prison so many years earlier helped her deal with her feelings.

“I felt guilty because I hadn’t really learned everything at that point; what the police had done, but (Cole’s family) just told me, ‘It’s not your fault. This isn’t anything you did,’ ” Mallin said, “As I learned more I started to believe that, but I still felt terrible. Even if I hadn’t had anything to do with it, I still would have felt terrible because I just don’t believe — I want justice and truth to come out, not for somebody to go to prison wrongfully.”

Mallin said that she pulled into the parking lot at St. John’s United Methodist Church across from her Texas Tech residence hall in 1985.  She didn’t have a pass to park on campus and although it was 10 p.m. and she was alone she only expected to be gone for a few minutes as she moved her car off-campus.  The 20-year-old barely got her car in park when a man knocked on her window asking for help.  Mallin didn’t have any jumper cables and pointed to another car nearby.  The man ignored her, reached through the window, unlocked her door, and forced his way in.  Mallin fought back, but the assailant had a knife and threatened to kill her.  He drove them to a vacant lot where he assaulted her.  Mallin was relieved when the man left evidence behind when he fled on foot. “Don’t touch that,” Mallin thought as she found her way back to campus, “It should have his fingerprints on there.” When she finally arrived back at her dorm room, 3 hours after being abducted, she called the Lubbock PD.  She told them her attacker was an African-American man with medium build and short, curly hair.  And about the evidence left behind, a cigarette and a lighter.

“As a crime victim I was just doing everything I could to give them enough information to try to catch this guy,” Mallin said, “I was 20 years old, I was barely out of high school myself. I had no idea what they were doing.”

Mallin didn’t know how prosecutors would use her information.  How the police would mishandle the evidence and how her testimony would single-handedly be used to imprison an innocent man.

A month later, Mallin was asked to view a photo lineup.  A police detective met her in the lobby of her dorm and laid out six photos.  Mallin pointed to a color Polaroid of a smiling 20-year-old, Tim Cole, “I think that’s him.” Everyone believed Cole was the rapist, Mallin, the jury, and the public.  Everyone was wrong. Court documents in 2008 reveal that Mallin felt pressured by detectives to identify someone in the photo spread so the case could be closed quickly.

“We have to learn that we can’t always assume. We have to make sure that they’re really guilty,” Mallin said, “One innocent person in prison is wrong. One is too many and we’ve exonerated over 300 in this country now and that makes me kind of wonder, ‘how many people are still sitting there and they didn’t do the crime?’ ”

“This is not what I wanted. I did everything I could, I identified the guy, I tried to give a description of the man who raped me. I gave (police) access to my car for fingerprints. He wasn’t wearing gloves or anything and they had the rape kit to go on. I did everything I could to try to help the police get the right guy.”

In 2008, Mallin was finally told that Cole had died in 1999.  Mallin was confused as to why an investigator would tell her this 9 years after the fact.  As the investigator finished his story, she was overcome with guilt.
In 1995, after the statute of limitations for rape charges expired, Jerry Wayne Johnson began sending officials letters confessing to the crime Cole was convicted of.  Johnson was serving a 99-year sentence for two sexual assaults and said he wanted to clear his conscience.  Cole was still alive at the time, but the case was ignored.  In 2007, reporter Elliott Blackburn, the Innocence Project of Texas, and the Lubbock County District Attorney Matt Powell all began receiving letters. Powell reopened the case and performed DNA testing of the evidence.  Johnson was identified as the culprit, but it was too late for Cole. Mallin said she was shocked and could only think, “What did I do.” She said she spent a whole day crying, alone, overwhelmed with remorse. “I feel terrible what happened to their son and their brother,” Mallin said. “They’ve been really, really nice. I didn’t know if they’d even want to have anything to do with me…”

Judge Charles Baird ruled in 2009 that evidence was consciously ignored during Cole’s trial, Johnson’s attempts to confess were dismissed, and that no evidence ever linked Cole to the crime he was convicted of.  In addition, the assault of Mallin was part of a series of assaults committed by the Texas Tech rapist.  Baird said police suffered from “tunnel vision”.  The photo lineup was flawed because police used a color photo for Cole and mugshots for everyone else, highlighting Cole.

“The biggest problem was the unduly suggestive photo lineup and the manner of its presentation to Michele Mallin,” Baird said. “Once that improper conduct occurred, I think it was pretty much inevitable; I think Tim Cole’s fate was sealed.”

“The (exoneration) hearing that we had for Tim in my court gave Michele Mallin an opportunity to confront Jerry Johnson and to tell him what she thought about him and it maybe gave her some closure,” Baird said. “This has just devastated her life. I just don’t know how she can overcome the grief and sorrow…”

WATCH BET’S VINDICATED:  TIM COLE EPISODE ONLINE HERE.

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