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State Sen. Escorted To Office By DPS After Heated Exoneration Debate

Ryan Poppe | Texas Public Radio
TPR News

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing was to be one of the last phases for a bill that would set up the state’s first exoneration commission to examine past wrongful convictions to determine what went wrong.

The hearing began with Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, stating she didn’t feel the Tim Cole Exoneration Commission was a needed item, and then it escalated from there.

"I think that Texas has done a really good job to try to do what we can to compensate the exonerees for the injustice that has been done to them and we’ve been very generous.  And I believe, I've been told that Texas has led the way in nation for relieve for exonerees," Huffman said.

According the Texas on the Brink study of the issue, Texas also leads the nation in the number of wrongful convictions over the past 5-years.

It was those statements by Huffman that had Cory Sessions, who is Timothy Cole's brother and is also executive director of the Innocence Project, yelling during his testimony for the bill. 

Timothy died in prison in 1999 while serving a 25-year sentence for a crime he did not commit. DNA evidence led to an exoneration.

"That’s your job to figure out what went wrong in this state. It's your job. You don’t like it? Go find another one. I am just pissed off to hear that type of attitude. You put a man in jail, you sentenced him but you made it right, we are trying to make it right for a lot of people," Sessions said.

According to court records, Huffman was acting as a judge during the trial of Josiah Sutton, and had played a part in a wrongful conviction. However, Huffman was able to correct that mistake by recommending his release.

This legislation has the support of  Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, who told lawmakers during his State of the State Address that it was time for Texas to set up a commission to examine these past cases of wrongful convictions.  

The bill survived a vote in the House, but is stuck in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee without a vote. 

Following the hearing, Huffman, worried for her personal safety, asked to be escorted back to her office by DPS Troopers working at the State Capitol.

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.