Mother Jones tells the story of how it happened that Texas Gov. Rick Perry pardoned a dead man, Tim Cole. The Texas criminal-justice system has long had a harsh reputation. During Perry’s governorship, Texas has executed 238 people and has exonerated 56. Of the exonerees, all had served years, sometimes decades, in prison; five were on death row.
As Perry sees it, these exonerations don’t suggest a problem with the system—they demonstrate that it’s working. “We have a very lengthy and methodical process of appeals,” he said last year. “And that is a great and good mark for Texas.” Cole, the first person posthumously pardoned in Texas history, was imprisoned as a 26-year-old student at Texas Tech University. He perished in prison even as the real rapist, Jerry Johnson, tried repeatedly to confess to the crime. By the time Johnson’s story was heard, Cole had been dead nearly a decade.