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Ruby Cole Session, Fierce Criminal Justice Reformer, Dies

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Ruby Cole Session, who championed the cause of the wrongfully convicted in Texas after her son was sent to prison for a rape he didn’t commit, has died. She was 77.

Session died of an aneurysm Thursday at home in Fort Worth, another of her sons, Cory Session, said Saturday. He said Gov. Rick Perry reached out to offer his condolences, describing his mother as a “genuine” and “spirited” woman.

Session lobbied Perry to sign the Tim Cole Act in 2009, which provides compensation for wrongfully convicted inmates to help rebuild their lives after they are freed.

Tim Cole was Session’s eldest son and a U.S. Army veteran studying at Texas Tech University when he was convicted of raping a fellow student in 1985. He died in prison from asthma complications in 1999, when he was 39 years old. At that time he had served 13 years of a 25-year sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.

It was years after his death when a letter arrived at the Cole family home. It was written by Jerry Johnson, the man who confessed to the rape. DNA later cleared Cole of the crime and then in 2010 Governor Rick Perry pardoned him. Throughout his ordeal, he maintained his innocence, even though he could have gotten parole had he confessed.

tim cole headstone Ruby Cole Session, Fierce Criminal Justice Reformer, Dies

Army Veteran Tim Cole is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Fort Worth.
(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

Cory Session said his mother was a “tireless” advocate for his half-brother and over the years met regularly with lawmakers and others to get Cole freed.

“It broke my heart and my heart will forever be broken forever,” Ruby Session said once about her son’s ordeal. “He had integrity he was a man of his word he was brought up if you do something admit to it and there will be some consequences.  However if you didn’t don’t admit to it and that makes me most proud of him.”

Nine years after Cole’s death, DNA testing cleared him in the rape and implicated a convicted rapist, Jerry Wayne Johnson, who had confessed to the attack in several letters to court officials that date back to 1995, four years before Cole died.

The DNA results prompted Perry to pardon Cole posthumously in 2010.

“Only the love of a mother has that steadfastness and tenacity to never give up,” said Session, policy director for the Lubbock-based Innocence Project of Texas, which campaigned for Cole’s release.

The law championed by Ruby Cole Session also spurred other reforms meant to reverse wrongful imprisonments.

She was honored in May by the Texas Senate for her achievements as an educator, criminal justice reformer and “fierce champion of the wrongly accused,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“When my mom would talk to people, when she really wanted to get something through, she would grab both their arms,” Cory Session said. She would also reach for their wrist, “somewhere where she could feel their pulse.”

After one year rolled into another in the family’s pursuit of a pardon for Cole, Session said his mother often turned to a common refrain: “Suffering breeds character and character breeds faith. And always hold on to your faith.”

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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