Innocence Commission Gets Nod From House Committee

On the heels of Texas' first posthumous exoneration, House committee finally passes Commission bill

Rep. Christian to Cole family: We feel your pain...but maybe not.
Rep. Christian to Cole family: We feel your pain...but maybe not.

Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, rounded up all of the members of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee to join him on the dais to cast their votes on House Bill 498, by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio. which creates an Innocence Commission to investigate each of Texas' growing number of wrongful convictions. With all 11 cats herded into the room, the measure passed out of committee on a vote of 8-3, with the usual suspects -- including Reps. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, and Wayne Christian, R-Center -- voting against the measure.*

Still, said McClendon, Gov. Rick Perry has promised he'll sign the measure into law -- if it makes it to his desk.

Members of the family of Timothy Cole, who died in prison after serving 13 years for a 1985 rape in Lubbock that DNA has proven he did not commit, also gathered for the vote. The measure, which has been proposed several sessions in a row, tasks an Innocence Commission with identifying the causes of wrongful convictions and how to prevent them -- as it stands, Texas has the dubious honor of leading the country in convicting the innocent. To date, 38 men have been exonerated in Texas after spending a total of more than 400 years in prison. Cole was formally exonerated after a February hearing in the Travis Co. District Court of Judge Charlie Baird. It was the state's first posthumous exoneration.

After the votes were cast, Christian turned up his mic to let the Cole family know that the votes against the measure, including his own, had nothing to do with the feelings of lawmakers about the fate of their son. Certainly the situation Cole's family has found itself in is "horrible, and we totally support you," he said. There was "no excuse" for what happened to Timothy Cole, he added, and the family should know that "our opposition don't have nothing to do with our respect for your situation," he concluded.

Thanks. Thanks a lot. Amazingly, Riddle, not known for holding her tongue, did so this time. For that, perhaps, there is thanks.

The bill now moves to the full House for consideration. And, McClendon said, during a meeting with the Cole family and Gov. Rick Perry this morning, Perry promised the family that when/if the bill makes it to his desk he will sign it.

(You can read the original version of HB 498 here. The Committee passed a substitute bill that tweaks the composition of the Commission. The substance, however, remains the same.)

*Oops! In the original post, NewsDesk mistakenly recorded Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, as one of the reps voting against the bill. It would be particularly difficult for Driver to vote against the measure considering he doesn't even sit on the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. We regret the error.

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