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William Love

Summary of Tulia Misconduct
William Cash Love was one of 35 defendants wrongfully convicted based on misconduct by an undercover sheriff’s deputy in Swisher County, Texas.

On July 23, 1999, law-enforcement officers who were part of a regional anti-drug task force conducted a pre-dawn raid into individual homes across Tulia, a small town in the Texas Panhandle. They arrested 46 people, charging most with delivery of cocaine, based on alleged sales to the undercover officer. Love, then 23 years old, was charged with delivery of marijuana and cocaine on seven separate occasions, the latest allegedly occurring on September 3, 1998.

The officers arrived with arrest warrants, but seized no cocaine, weapons or cash during any of the arrests. Forty-one of the defendants were black, and they comprised approximately 10 percent of Tulia’s black population. Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Coleman directed the raid, and he was named Outstanding Lawman of the Year in 2000 by the Texas Department of Public Safety for his undercover work on the Tulia case.

Love was one of a handful of Tulia defendants who didn’t plead guilty. His trial in Swisher County District Court began on January 26, 2000. Prior to trial, Love’s attorney filed several motions for any exculpatory evidence held by prosecutors. No discovery material was provided.

At trial, Coleman falsely testified that he purchased drugs from Love. He also testified falsely that he had left his previous employer in good standing and that he did not have a criminal record. In fact, after Coleman left his job as a deputy in Cochran County, the county filed theft charges against him in May 1998 for using a county credit card to buy personal gas. Separately, he had left behind $7,000 in debts to merchants in the community.

Sergeant Jerry Massengill, one of the supervisors of the task force, testified falsely that he was unaware of any complaints about Coleman, whose arrest had happened several months into his undercover work in Tulia. Sheriff Larry Stewart testified falsely that he had not had any trouble with Coleman, despite having to execute the arrest warrant on Coleman for the theft charge, which was later quietly dropped after Coleman made restitution to the county.

Swisher County District Attorney Terry McEachern led Coleman through a series of questions about his record on the witness stand and later said at trial that there was “nothing of a crime of moral turpitude or a crime involving – or any crime, period, on [his] record.” But McEachern knew that to be false. McEachern also told the court that he had personally taken part in Coleman’s background check. In a deposition several years later, McEachern said that wasn’t true.

The jury convicted Love on January 29, 2000, on seven counts of delivery of cocaine or a controlled substance and one count of delivery of marijuana. Several of the convictions carried enhancements based on the proximity of the alleged sale to a school. Judge Edward Self sentenced Love to 361 years in prison.

At a post-conviction hearing for Love on April 12, 2000, McEachern again repeated that he had no knowledge of Coleman’s arrest at the time of Love’s trial. In a deposition taken on December 3, 2000, McEachern said he knew about the arrest in July 1999, when a grand jury was meeting to consider indictments against the Tulia defendants.

On June 23, 2000, the Texas Observer magazine published a lengthy investigation about the situation in Tulia, including details about Coleman’s arrest and his troubled employment history. The story also questioned the basic logic of the arrests—that there were dozens of drug dealers in a hardscrabble town. Moreover, the story noted, there was little evidence – beyond Coleman’s word and his scant files – connecting the defendants to cocaine, particularly powder cocaine.

Vanita Gupta, an attorney with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense Fund, became involved in the cases that month, after seeing a short documentary on Tulia. Working with a phalanx of private, pro bono attorneys, Gupta organized a massive legal challenge to the convictions of the Tulia defendants, filing habeas petitions with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Eventually, four of the convictions were remanded back to Swisher County for hearings.

The appellate court’s order, filed on September 25, 2002, directed the trial court to make findings about whether Coleman’s testimony was corroborated and the nature of that corroboration; what alleged impeachment evidence was known to the state at the time of trial; and whether any of this evidence was disclosed. The defendants claimed that prosecutors had suppressed exculpatory evidence.

Judge Edward Self, the trial judge for the overwhelming majority of the Tulia cases, was to preside over the hearings. Gupta and her team wanted another judge and filed a successful motion for his recusal.

The heart of the hearing concerned what Sheriff Larry Stewart, the task force, and prosecutors, led by Swisher County District Attorney Terry McEachern, knew about Coleman’s arrest, when they knew it, and what they did with that knowledge.

Coleman was a witness, but before he finished testifying, the two sides began working on a joint Stipulation of Facts and Findings to present to Judge Ron Chapman.

The stipulations were given to Chapman, and, on April 2, 2003, he recommended that the 38 cases – 35 convictions and three probation revocations – be thrown out. He said from the bench, “It is stipulated by all parties and approved by the court that Tom Coleman is simply not a credible witness under oath.” His order said that Coleman had committed “blatant perjury” and branded him as “the most devious, non-responsive law enforcement witness this court has witnessed in twenty-five years on the bench in Texas.”

Normally, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals would sign off on Chapman’s ruling that granted the habeas motions, but that was made unnecessary by Gov. Rick Perry’s pardons of all 35 defendants on August 22, 2003. Love was released from prison that day.

The Tulia defendants, including those who were arrested but not convicted, later filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas against the task force and the cities and counties who governed the body. In 2003, they reached a settlement of $5 million with the city of Amarillo and a separate settlement of $1 million with other communities. The money was split among 46 persons who were charged or convicted as a result of the undercover operation. The task force was also disbanded.

Separately, 19 of these defendants received compensation awards, including annuities, from the state of Texas totaling $3.1 million. The lump sum awards ranged from $14,583 to $106,250, which was what Love received.

Coleman was charged with two counts of perjury. He was convicted on January 14, 2005 on a single count, for lying at the habeas hearing about when he became aware that a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was given 10 years of probation, and his law-enforcement career came to an end.

McEachern lost his campaign for reelection in 2004 and was investigated by the State Bar of Texas. The Bar concluded in July 2005 that McEachern had engaged in misconduct during his prosecution of the Tulia cases. The agency suspended his license for two years but probated the sentence, allowing McEachern to keep practicing law.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 5/18/2022
Last Updated: 5/18/2022
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1998
Sentence:361 years
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No