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The Innocent Convicts. A new documentary film explores several false conviction cases around the U.S. including the story of Timothy Cole, a Texas student, and Army Veteran who in 1986 was sentenced to 25 years in prison for a crime he never committed.
In March 1985, a 20-year-old Texas Tech student was brutally raped by an African American man in a parking lot a couple of blocks away from her dormitory. This incident, among similar sexual assaults, shocked parents, students and the university town of Lubbock, Texas.
Desperate for an arrest, the Lubbock Police Department pulled out all the stops, even sending an undercover female police officer into the neighborhoods where the attacks occurred. On assignment, she met and mingled with another Texas Tech student, Tim Cole, who matched the victim’s description; as a result he was arrested and charged with the crime. This, despite the fact all the rape victims described their attacker as a heavy smoker—and Cole was asthmatic. While no physical evidence linked Cole to the crime, in September 1986 an all-white jury convicted him. He was sentenced to 25 years. Never once did he admit guilt, refusing to take blame for a crime he did not commit.
In 1995, another Texas prisoner, Jerry Wayne Johnson, wrote to police and prosecutors in Lubbock to confess that he had actually committed the rape. But it took years for his letters to be acknowledged by authorities. With the advent of DNA testing, the results were later conclusive: Johnson was the rapist, not Cole.
But it all came too late. Cole died in prison in 1999–from an asthma attack– after serving 13 years. He never even learned that Johnson was trying to confess.
We recently traveled to Fort Worth, Lubbock, Amarillo and Lamesa to conduct interviews with Cole’s family, leaders of the Innocence Project of Texas, attorneys and cops involved in the Cole case, and even the still-imprisoned Jerry Wayne Johnson himself, The Innocent Convicts explains how Cole has become the face of wrongful convictions in Texas. We show how his tragic story has helped change laws and mindsets, but reveal there’s still much more to be done.
The Innocent Convicts also includes at least half a dozen other wrongful conviction cases around the nation among them: Mike Hansen, Audrey Edmunds, Uriah Courtney, The Monfils Six and Lamont McKoy.
Each story examines the varying causes behind wrongful convictions, whether they be witnesses, misidentifications, prosecutorial misconduct, perjured testimonies, faulty medical examination, racial injustice, etc.
The stories of victims whose lives have been destroyed, stories of families torn apart, stories of those struggling to be reintegrated into mainstream society; but ultimately stories of those who stood by their principles and refused to give up.
One of the United States’ most cherished tenets is to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans. Based on extensive research, exclusive interviews and in-depth reporting, the goal with The Innocent Convicts is to beam a powerful light on the grave injustices and horrendous penalties Tim Cole, Mike Hansen, Audrey Edmunds, Uriah Courtney, Monfils Six(the men convicted in the Green Bay paper mill death and others) have suffered, the disruptions and agony caused for their families, and the failings of law enforcement in America. We want to spur action and elevate conversation around these issues, and present solutions.
In addition to film and television release, we intend for the documentary to be utilized as an educational tool, and be distributed to universities, law colleges, libraries, and secondary schools, as well as organizations such as the American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Action Network, and The Innocence Project. The ultimate goal is to present the film in front of policymakers working to evoke social change.
The Innocent Convicts has secured support from PBS stations around the country to air this documentary. As of August 2015, stations in Albuquerque, Baltimore, Bemidji/Brainerd, Chicago (both WTTW and WYCC), Lincoln, Lubbock, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Sacramento and Topeka have provided either Letters of Support, Interest or Intent to Air, or expressed interest in becoming the production’s presenting station. The program will be distributed nationally, either through a presenting station, through the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA), American Public Television (APT), or the PBS Network Operations Center, Westlink.
Funding for the film, so far, has come from a grant from the Minnesota State Bar Association Foundation, a successful crowdfunding campaign via IndieGoGo, and supporter contributions via events like GiveMN.org’s annual “Give to the Max Day” and #GivingTuesday. Your support will enable us to continue financing the production.
For more information, or to see the full project proposal, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. And to make a fully tax-deductible donation to help fund the film, click on our Donate Page: