Downtown Tulia, Texas.
Tulia is a small, struggling farm town in the Texas panhandle. There are only 5,033 people who live there. And like many small towns where there is not much to do besides work. Tulia has had a minor drug problem.
In 1999, Tom Coleman, a freelance undercover narcotics officer who had been fired from his two prior police jobs for being a pathological liar, arrived in town. Working for a regional narcotics task force, Coleman's job was clear enough. Clean up the town's riff-raff, especially a group of young blacks that were dating white women.
Although a stranger and white in a racially divided town, Coleman quickly ingratiated himself with some members of the local black community by smoking dope and crack cocaine with them. When the time came for him to justify what he had done with his buy money, he named forty-four residents of the town who he claimed had repeatedly sold him drugs. Forty-three of those arrested were black, even though there were only 450 blacks in the town.
Because almost every black household in Tulia had a relative charged with drug dealing, it was the town's whites that served on the jury. Based on Coleman's testimony alone, without any physical evidence or other witnesses, all forty-four defendants were convicted of conspiracy to distribute narcotics. Sentences of twenty, thirty, forty and ninety-nine years were handed out like candy. The town's drug "kingpin", Joe Moore, a fifty three-year-old illiterate pig farmer and part time moonshiner, received a ninety-year sentence.
In 2003, after investigations by outside agitators such as the NAACP and the New York Times, a new trial was held. Without a jury, the judge declared Coleman's testimony utterly unbelievable. Although four years of their lives had been stolen from them, thirteen defendants still in Texas prisons arrived at the Swisher County Court House in chains. They received a lecture from the judge to stay out of trouble, and were set free