Tulia 35 pardoned

Joe Moore and 34 co-defendants in the Tulia, Texas, drug bust fiasco were pardoned on Aug. 22 by Gov. Rick Perry. Perry’s pardon clears the 60-year-old Moore, who is African American, of charges that he sold cocaine to special undercover investigator Tom Coleman of the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force.

Despite his innocence, Moore paid a steep price for the racist frame-up. After being wrongfully convicted and spending three and a half years in the Texas state penitentiary, Moore lost his farm and his diabetes worsened. He now lives in an apartment in Tulia and told the Austin American Statesman that “It’s hard to know how I’m going to make a living. I’ve got nothing. I just leave it in the hands of the Lord.”

What happened to Moore and the other 34 defendants is being characterized in the media as a tragic but atypical miscarriage of justice. With the pardons, Gov. Perry and the authorities are hoping to put this shameful act to rest.

But the events that led up to the convictions show how racist the West Texas law enforcement system is. The convictions were based on testimony of Coleman, who is white. Coleman had no witnesses or other evidence to corroborate his story.

Not only was there no evidence to back up his assertions, but local authorities knew that Coleman had an unsavory reputation. After the arrests but before the first trials were held, local authorities learned that Coleman had an arrest record for theft, but tried to keep this information from defense attorneys. When the defense attorneys learned of Coleman’s background, they filed a motion with Judge Ed Self asking that the jury be made aware of Coleman’s background. The judge ruled that this information was not relevant.

As a result of Coleman’s lies, Moore received a sentence of 90 years in prison. But West Texas justice is not always applied equally. Terry McEachern, the white prosecutor who tried the Tulia cases, was arrested in New Mexico last year and charged with driving under the influence. Before he began driving, he had three drinks and took Valium. In June of this year, he was convicted and sentenced to two days in jail. Despite his arrest and conviction, he continues to hold his job as county prosecutor in Swisher County, where Tulia is located.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org