Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Tulia, Texas Scandal

Trials and Tribulations

Joe Moore
Joe Moore
One of the first people tried in Tulia for purportedly dealing drugs to Coleman was Joe Welton Moore, 60. Moore, a diabetic hog farmer, had previously spent time behind bars for two felony convictions involving possession of cocaine. Kossey said that he is one of four arrested in the sting that had a prior conviction. He was accused of selling Coleman an eight-ball of powdered cocaine on two separate occasions.

Joe Moore's home
Joe Moore's home

According to Ed Bradley's CBS News article "Targeted in Tulia, Texas?," Moore was described as the "drug kingpin of Tulia." He was tried in December 1999 and found guilty on both counts by a predominantly white Tulia jury. He eventually received one of the harshest sentences, 99 years in a state prison. His sentence was extreme because he was said to have sold the drugs within 1,000 feet of a school, which is a first-degree felony in Texas.

Probably one of the hardest hit in the drug sting was the White family. Mattie White, a 50-year-old state prison correctional officer and divorced mother of six, had three of her children, one niece, two nephews and a son-in-law arrested for allegedly selling drugs to Coleman. With her children in jail, she and her ex-husband took on the responsibility of caring for their grandchildren. She had to take on another job just to clothe and feed them.

Mattie White
Mattie White
Jennifer Gonnerman wrote in her article "Tulia Blues," the first of Mattie's children to be tried was her son Donnie Smith, 30, "a former Tulia High football star" who had struggled with a crack cocaine addiction, but had been clean for half a year before his arrest. During his March 2000 trial, Coleman claimed that Donnie sold him crack and powdered cocaine on six separate occasions. Donnie received 12 years in a state prison on a plea bargain.

Kizzie White & daughter Tamika
Kizzie White & daughter Tamika

Donnie's sister, Kizzie White, 24, went on trial one month later. Kizzie, a mother of two children aged three and six, was accused of selling Coleman cocaine and marijuana. Even though she initially professed her innocence, it was Coleman's word against hers. In order to escape a harsh sentence she accepted a plea bargain, yet received a 25-year prison sentence anyways.

Her husband, William Cash Love, fared far worse. He was found guilty of selling Coleman an ounce of crack cocaine. He received a whopping 434 years in prison, the most severe sentence handed down. Blakeslee said that William, "a young white man who spent his entire life in the company of blacks, and who married a black woman, was singled out to send a message about his lifestyle choice." The sentences were devastating for William and his wife, Kizzie, who feared they would never get the chance to see their children grow up.

Mattie's youngest son, Kareem Abdul Jabbar White, 24, was tried in September 2000. During the court proceedings, Coleman's credibility was vigorously attacked after he gave conflicting statements during his testimony concerning who was present during the alleged drug deal. Moreover, according to Doug Caddy's Amarillo Globe-News article, four witnesses for the defense team, including a prosecutor and a former sheriff, testified that Coleman was a liar. Regardless, the jury found Kareem guilty for selling cocaine to Coleman. He received 60 years in prison.

Surprisingly, Kareem's older sister Tonya, 33, was accused of selling cocaine to Coleman even though she lived in Shreveport, LA, at the time of the alleged drug deal. When she learned that there was a warrant out for her arrest, she laid low for two years, hoping to avoid a prison sentence for something she knew she didn't do. The entire time she lived in fear of suffering the same fate as her siblings.

Jeff Blackburn, defense attorney
Jeff Blackburn, defense attorney
In September 2000, Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo criminal defense lawyer who specialized in civil rights cases offered to handle Tonya's unusual case pro bono. He was outraged at the events that took place in Tulia and wanted to make sure that the imprisonments, which he deemed unlawful, were put to an end. During his investigation into Tonya's case, he learned that at the time Coleman claimed she was making a drug deal to him, Tonya was at an Oklahoma City bank withdrawing $8 in cash. Luckily, the bank noted the transaction and Blackburn was able to obtain the receipt, as well as a deposit slip for money she deposited on the same day.

Tonya returned home to Tulia to face the charges in the spring of 2002, hoping that the evidence was enough to clear her name. She faced a 99-year sentence for purportedly selling Coleman 4 grams of cocaine, approximately 1,000 feet from a playground. The charge was considered to be a first-degree felony.

When Blackburn presented the evidence at her trial that April, the jury had no choice but to dismiss the charges. A 2002 Houston Chronicle article by Jeannie Kever suggested that chief prosecutor, District Attorney Terry McEachern, didn't believe that the deposit slip was "absolute proof," yet it created enough doubt to not go through with the case. According to Leeann Kossey's article "White Gains Freedom," Blackburn said about Coleman, "This is not a blow to his credibility, this is an eliminator of his credibility." Tonya's case was a significant milestone, throwing Coleman's reputation and investigative methods used in the Tulia sting operation into serious doubt and into the national spotlight.

 

 

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