January 14, 2005
Coleman convicted of perjury


The lone undercover agent in a sting that sent dozens of black people to prison on bogus drug charges in Tulia was convicted today of one of two perjury counts.

Tom Coleman was acquitted of testifying falsely in a 2003 hearing that as a sheriff's deputy he never stole gas from county pumps, but he was found guilty of saying that he didn't learn about the theft charge against him until August 1998.

Jurors were to begin hearing evidence in the penalty phase of the trial later today. Aggravated perjury is a third-degree felony and carries a maximum 10-year sentence and $10,000 fine.

Coleman had no noticeable reaction as the verdict was read, but some Tulia defendants in the courtroom bowed their heads as the verdict was read.

This report is hot off the presses, so I don't have any idea yet why Coleman was acquitted on one of the two counts. Apparently, the case took a strange turn yesterday when one of the prosecutors was called as a witness for the defense.

Dallas attorney John Nation turned out to be the biggest surprise of the day. Defense attorneys for Coleman called Nation as a witness. Attorneys questioned him about a potential conflict of interest since Nation formerly represented the state and Coleman in the 2003 writ of habeas corpus hearing for several Tulia drug defendants. That`s the hearing that Coleman is accused of perjuring himself.

In cross-examination, Nation said he removed himself from the case, "because I was convinced he was committing aggravated perjury and I had an ethical duty to stop there."

The state is expected to pick up with more testimony Friday morning and then the case will go into closing arguments.

The judge granted Nation`s motion to be removed from the case Thursday evening.

The defense called Tom Coleman`s mother to the stand early Thursday morning. She supported defense claims that her son did not steal gas because witnesses say they saw a man in a white hat. Ms. Coleman says her son only wears black cowboy hats.

I include that last bit because for all I know, it was what got Coleman off on the gas-stealing charge. Alan Bean's most recent entry goes into more detail about the defense's case. I hope he can give us one more post to explain the verdicts. The Texas Tech newspaper has some decent coverage from yesterday as well.

Finally, as Grits notes, the last chapter of the Tulia case might be the abolishment of Tulia-style narcotics task forces in Texas. If so, then something good will have come out of all this.

UPDATE: Initial coverage from Grits here and here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 14, 2005 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack