"The story of Tim Cole is a story of inspiration and grace," Gov. Rick Perry says
Cole died from heart condition while serving 25 years for rape he didn't commit
Lubbock honors Cole with 13-foot bronze statue near Texas Tech campus
City wanted to commemorate man who "refused to take his freedom on the cheap"
Even while imprisoned for a rape he didn’t commit, Tim Cole never stopped acting like a big brother.
“He would send us letters, telling us what classes to take, telling us to look out for a subscription to Money magazine he was sending us,” brother Cory Session remembers.
Cole was a student at Texas Tech when he was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 1985 rape of 20-year-old Michele Mallin.
In 2009, DNA would exonerate Cole, but not until a decade after he died in prison, at age 39, from heart complications related to his asthma.
To those who loved him, Texas can never right the false conviction, but the Lubbock City Council wants to make sure Cole and his case are not forgotten. The city unveiled a statue of the Fort Worth native across the street from the Texas Tech campus on Wednesday afternoon and dedicated the area where the bronze likeness will stand as the Tim Cole Memorial Park.
Behind bars, Cole refused to lose faith, telling his sister Karen Kennard – the only African-American enrolled at Texas Tech’s law school at the time – not to give up pursuing her law degree.
“I still believe in the justice system, even if the justice system doesn’t believe in me,” he once wrote in a letter.
Kennard finished her degree and went on to become the city attorney for Austin, Texas.
His brotherly attitude extended beyond his kin as well. His family wouldn’t learn about it until later, but Cole used the money he earned from his GI Bill to make thousands of dollars in charitable donations from behind bars.
“He knew he couldn’t help himself, but he could help other people,” Session said.
Cole always maintained his innocence, even after he was offered parole in exchange for admitting to the rape. He never confessed, and in 2007, Texas inmate Jerry Johnson – who didn’t realize Cole had died eight years before – wrote to Cole, confessing the rape and offering to submit to DNA testing to clear Cole’s name.
“Tim had the integrity to say, ‘I won’t confess to something I didn’t do,’” former Lubbock City Councilman Todd Klein said. “He refused to take his freedom on the cheap.”
That legacy is just one of the reasons Cole will be memorialized at one of Lubbock’s busiest intersections.
Klein was instrumental in seeing that the sculpture was erected. He felt it was important, he said, to “remind us of this teachable moment” in the city’s history.
“The government has enormous power to take one’s life or liberty,” Klein said. “When we make a mistake we should admit to it. We should make amends where we can.”
The bronze statue, standing at least 13 feet tall, depicts Cole’s torso facing the area where the crime occurred. Cole’s gaze will be fixed on the vicinity of Texas Tech’s law school, where future prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges will be reminded that humans are fallible and that fact must remain at the top of their minds as they pursue their law careers, Klein said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, state Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Wendy Davis, as well as friends and family of Cole, were among the attendees at Wednesday’s dedication.
Perry pardoned Cole in 2010. Two years later, on the anniversary of Cole’s exoneration, the state constructed a historical marker that was placed at his gravesite.
Perry spoke at Wednesday’s dedication, saying, “The story of Tim Cole is a story of inspiration and grace.”
Mallin, the rape victim who picked Cole out of a lineup that led his wrongful conviction, was also expected to be in attendance.
After realizing her mistake, she helped to get Cole’s name cleared and has since developed a relationship with Cole’s family.
Session recalled how when his mother was still alive, she told Mallin, “You’re a victim, just like my son was.”
Davis told the story of her first meeting with Ruby Cole Session. It was during her first week in the Texas Legislature in 2009.
“She was a person of diminutive stature but a giant in every other way,” Davis remembered, “She pressed into my chest a photograph of her son, Tim Cole. She put a face on this issue … urging me in making sure that his life and his death meant something for others.”
Ruby Session died last year, making Wednesday’s statue dedication bittersweet. Though she had the opportunity to sue the state in the wake of her son’s exoneration, Session said his mother only wanted people to remember her son.
“He left here with his head bowed and his arms and legs in shackles,” Session said, “Today he returns standing tall, uncompromised. But not unsung.”
CNN’s Ed Lavandera and Devon M. Sayers contributed to this report.