House Bill 1736 Increases Compensation, Other Benefits for Wrongly Imprisoned Texans
(Austin--May 27, 2009)--Today, Governor Rick Perry signed the Tim Cole Act into law. The bill was sponsored by Robert Duncan (Lubbock) in the Senate and Rafael Anchia (Dallas) in the House.
“While we cannot give back the time lost to those wrongfully convicted who have spent ime in prison, or their families, this new law is a significant step for justice by increasing compensation for the innocent,” said Gov. Rick Perry. “I commend Rep. Anchia and Sen. Duncan for their leadership on this important legislation, a necessary and appropriate measure to amend the miscarriage of justice.”
The legislation greatly increases the compensation and assistance the State of Texas provides for individuals who have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned. So far, 40 Texas prisoners have been cleared based on DNA evidence. Dozens of others have been exonerated based on non-DNA evidence.
The signing of the bill comes on the same day that the 20th wrongfully convicted person in Dallas County was exonerated in a Dallas County courtroom. DNA evidence cleared Jerry Lee Evans of the 1986 rape of 18 year-old Southern Methodist University student. Evans was convicted in 1987. That conviction has been attributed to faulty eyewitness testimony.
HB 1736 increases the lump sum compensation paid to victims of wrongful imprisonment from $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of imprisonment. In addition to the lump sum payment, the bill also requires the State of Texas to make monthly payments to the exonerated individual for life.
The bill also provides payment for up to 120 hours of tuition and fees at career centers or state institutions of higher education, and provides for various state-provided services to ease the exonerees' re-entry and reintegration into society.
"This is a great day for Texas, and for the cause of justice in Texas. The Tim Cole Act could not have passed without the extraordinary efforts of a lot of courageous and committed individuals, including Tim Cole's family and the exonerees themselves". Said State Rep. Rafael Anchia. He continued, " We should all be proud for our state, and for these men and their families, who have waited so long for this day."
The bill is named for Timothy Cole, who died in prison in 1999. Cole was serving a 25-year sentence after being wrongfully convicted for the rape of a Texas Tech student in 1985. The guilty man, Jerry Wayne Johnson, went to prison on another charge and had tried to confess to the crime as early as 1995, but under state law he could no longer be charged with the crime. Subsequently, DNA testing ordered by the Lubbock County District Attorney's office proved that Tim Cole could not have been the perpetrator. Tim Cole died in prison before the system could free him.
Cory Session, Tim Cole's brother said, "It's a new day for the exonerated and a hopeful day for those who have yet to be exonerated." He added, "I hope this act will lead to the passage of other legislation that will help keep innocent people from being sent to prison in the first place."
Referring to the passage of the Tim Cole Act, Jeff Blackburn, Chief Counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas said, This is a huge leap forward for the work of the Innocence Project of Texas and shows how powerful it can be to do the right thing. When Senator Duncan and Representative Anchia took up our cause, we were hopeful, but we had no idea we would ever really see this day.”
The Tim Cole Act takes effect on September 1, 2009.
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