FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – The first historical marker in the nation to memorialize someone wrongfully convicted was unveiled Monday in Fort Worth.
Timothy Cole didn’t live long enough to see his exoneration and pardon.
Cole, a U.S. Army veteran, was studying at Texas Tech University when he was convicted of the 1985 rape of a fellow student. He served more than 13 years in prison for the crime, turning down a plea offer that would have freed him on parole, but would have required him to admit he was guilty; something he vehemently denied.
Cole was still behind bars in 1999 when he died from asthma complications. Nine years later, a DNA test cleared him of the crime.
“His case then turned into the Timothy Cole Compensation Act which made Texas the most progressive state in the union when it comes to compensating the wrongfully convicted,” explained Nick Vilbas, the executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas.
Vilbas said the historical marker has a definite meaning. “The Texas Historical Commission has chosen to honor Timothy Cole, his life and the fight the exonerate him.”
Cole’s case was the first posthumous pardon in Texas history.
“Wrong was committed when, in 1985, I was raped and also in 1986 when Tim was convicted wrongfully,” said Michele Mallin, who thought Cole was her attacker and testified as such. “I was 100 percent positive that I had the right guy, I believed that it was him, that it looked like him.”
The marker dedication ceremonies included a speaking event, at the Texas Wesleyan School of Law, titled “The Truth about Tim Cole and Texas Justice.”
The historical marker ceremony was placed at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Fort Worth. Cole’s family was on hand for the ceremonies.
“You can’t trust in our justice system,” Mallin said. “I tried to get rid of the guilt, but I don’t think I’ll ever not feel guilty.”
The Cole family hopes anyone who comes to the cemetery will stop and read the historical marker and pay attention to one line that reads, “This is the legacy of a man who once wrote from prison that ‘I still believe in the justice system even though it doesn’t believe in me.”
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