More than one dozen people serving time for convictions resulting from a discredited 1999 drug case in Tulia, Tex., are headed toward freedom under a bill signed yesterday by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The measure allows those imprisoned “to be released until the justice system has finally spoken,” Perry said.
Within about 10 days, the defendants will be returned to Tulia and be allowed to post bond pending court approval. Dozens of Tulia residents, most of them black, were arrested in a raid after an investigation by undercover agent Tom Coleman, who was indicted in April for allegedly lying during evidentiary hearings involving the case.
Coleman’s 18-month undercover operation led to the arrest of 46 people. Civil rights advocates contend that the busts were racially motivated. Coleman’s uncorroborated testimony resulted in prison terms for many of the 38 people who were prosecuted. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals still must rule on the defendants’ case, which could take years.