On December 2nd, 1999, Timothy Cole died of an asthma attack while in prison for a sexual assault he didn’t commit. Stunned by the injustice of the loss, his brother Cory vowed to clear his brother’s name and ensure such a tragedy never befall anyone else. His family, joined by the victim and the Texas Innocence Project, successfully overturned Tim’s conviction on February 6, 2009, becoming the state of Texas’s first posthumous exoneration. Today, Cory is the Vice President of the Texas Innocence Project, drawing upon his experiences to lobby for progressive, statewide justice reform. Tune in to this moving installment of Open Mike for updates on the Innocence Project’s current initiatives and how Tim’s family is faring these days.

Show Notes

[00:30] Background of Cory Session, Vice President of Texas’s Innocence Project, and context of his brother Timothy Cole’s wrongful conviction and asthma attack death while behind bars.

[01:04] Cory, welcome to Open Mike. I hate meeting under these circumstances, but I know it’s your life’s mission, talking about your brother and Innocence Projects… you’ve worked tirelessly to free wrongful convictions — can you set the stage for our viewers on why?

[03:20] This ended up being a high-profile case… a white woman being allegedly raped by a Black man, a series of serial sexual assaults that started before he even got to campus… why don’t you tell us some of the basic issues that happened within the case and doomed Timothy’s chance at a fair trial?

[7:07] Testimonial from the survivor stated that her assailant kept smoking cigarettes and she would pocket the butts, thinking they would be useful as evidence. Timothy was a severe asthmatic and couldn’t smoke — information that was not told to her by police.

[08:12] Another rape occurred, and Tim was identified as the rapist… which is impossible, because he was not even in the same geographic region and had an alibi.

[09:48] Tim refused a plea deal for two years of probation, because he refused to admit to a crime he didn’t do.

[11:48] Every time Tim’s defense attorney mentioned the name of a suspect who later ended up being guilty, the judge threatened to hold him in contempt.

[12:15] He was convicted and ultimately sentenced to 25 years in prison.

[15:28] On December 3rd, Tim’s family was notified that he had passed away in prison the previous day.

[21:46] While Tim was in prison, he still remained in close contact with his family, with multiple visits. And maintained his innocence, hoping for eventual exoneration.

[22:59] A lot of these cases have bad lawyering, but it doesn’t sound like that here. It sounds like Tim had a horrible prosecutor and judge. It’s shocking how this jury came to this result. I know there was DNA evidence back during this time — none of which could have matched your brother and matched someone else.

[24:32] Was it argued at trial that your brother couldn’t smoke cigarettes?

[25:12] Fast forwarding a little bit to the wonderful changes you and your family were able to put into action in Texas… why don’t you talk about some of the developments that have occurred as well as your mission work?

[27:43] In 2008, an investigative reporter told Tim’s family that detectives had a rape kit that would have potentially exonerated him, implicated Jerry Wayne Johnson, the actual rapist, and they were sitting on it. Up until that time, no one in Texas had been posthumously exonerated.

[31:45] Tim’s family ended up meeting with then-governor Rick Perry and convinced him to pass the Timothy Cole Compensation Act which increased compensation funds to exonerees to $80,000 per year for time served — the most generous in the country — as well as up to 120 college credit hours and lifetime annuity.

[34:43] We’ve been doing a lot of these cases, and people who are exonerated do not receive the same benefits as someone who’s been paroled… so it’s fantastic that the state of Texas has been getting on board and trying to make it better for those who have been released.

[38:01] Tim’s family still keeps in contact with the assault survivor who incorrectly identified him as a perpetrator, and there is no blame being cast— both parties are moving forward with grace and forgiveness.

[39:03] Is there anything being done in Texas to make sure this never happens to someone else? Because you and I both know that wrongful identifications make up a huge percentage of wrongful convictions…

[42:16] Can you give us a brief overview of what you’re doing as VP of Texas’s Innocence Project?

[45:13] You’re doing some great work and I commend you for these admirable efforts. Last question… what do you think Tim would say about all of the good work you’re doing with the Innocence Project and all the developments that happened posthumously?

[47:13] While he was in prison, Tim stated, “I still believe in the justice system even if it does not believe in me.”

[47:40] I think with your tenacity, we will reach a place where justice is distributed more equally. And I want to end on that powerful note. Cory Sessions, thank you so much for being here with us on Open Mike and sharing your story.

[48:02] Be sure to check out the Texas Innocence Project, and donate if you can!

[48:18] Another tough one… if you know somebody who needs to see this episode, forward it to them, like, comment, subscribe… thank you for being here with us and watching Open Mike — take care.

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