The prosecution has now rested in the perjury trial of disgraced former undercover cop Tom Coleman, and the first witness for his defense, Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart, may be in legal trouble of his own.
"We believe there are significant variations in his testimony, and it's problematic," special prosecutor Rod Hobson said.
District Judge David Gleason met privately with Stewart and announced that Lubbock attorney Chuck Lanehart had been retained to represent the sheriff. Stewart, who was on the witness stand when jurors recessed for lunch, did not return to the stand. But he is expected to return once his attorney has had time to compare Wednesday's testimony with what he has said in some of the Tulia drug trials and at a 2003 hearing about the cases.
Because of a gag order in the Coleman trial, prosecutors could not discuss their reasons for advising Gleason to appoint Stewart an attorney.
Some of the Tulia defendants and their relatives, who were sitting in the rear of the courtroom, were elated when they heard Hobson tell the judge that Stewart might need an attorney. One woman silently pumped an arm as she realized the significance of Hobson's statements. After court recessed, some former defendants talked with reporters and watched as Coleman's defense team left for the evening.
"We always felt the sheriff had something to do with it, too," said Kareem White, 28, who spent more than three years behind bars before being released.
"I still feel Tom Coleman and [former Swisher County District Attorney] Terry McEachern had more to do with this than Stewart, but they all deserve the blame."
McEachern, who was voted out of office, faces a disciplinary trial that accuses him of lying in court and concealing evidence from defense attorneys that Coleman had an arrest record.
Alan Bean, executive director of Friends of Justice, a group formed to challenge the drug convictions of the 46 defendants in Tulia, said the news about Stewart will likely divide Tulia once again.
"We have always felt that Sheriff Stewart should be held accountable for what he did in these drug investigations, and we hope there will be a full inquiry into his actions," Bean said. "... At the same time, the Tulia establishment is not going to like this one bit. They have always stood behind Sheriff Stewart, and I'm sure they will continue to stand behind him even if this goes forward."
Elsewhere on Grits, there's an action alert for Harris County residents.
As Tom Coleman's perjury trial continues this morning, a few Texans have an opportunity to directly help get rid of our corrupt drug task force system. ACLU is asking Harris County residents to contact their elected officials, urging them to spend federal Byrne grant funding on drug treatment and crime lab improvements instead of the county drug task force.