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Ruby Cole Session, criminal justice reformer, dies

 

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Ruby Cole Session, who championed the cause of the wrongfully convicted in Texas after her son was sent to prison for a rape he didn't commit, has died. She was 77.

Session died of an aneurysm Thursday at home in Fort Worth, another of her sons, Cory Session, said Saturday. He said Gov. Rick Perry reached out to offer his condolences, describing his mother as a "genuine" and "spirited" woman.

Session lobbied Perry to sign the Tim Cole Act in 2009, which provides compensation for wrongfully convicted inmates to help rebuild their lives after they are freed.

Tim Cole was Session's eldest son and a U.S. Army veteran studying at Texas Tech University when he was convicted of raping a fellow student in 1985. He died in prison from asthma complications in 1999, when he was 39 years old. Throughout his ordeal, he maintained his innocence, even though he could have gotten parole had he confessed.

Cory Session said his mother was a "tireless" advocate for his half-brother and over the years met regularly with lawmakers and others to get Cole freed. Nine years after Cole's death, DNA testing cleared him in the rape and implicated a convicted rapist, Jerry Wayne Johnson, who had confessed to the attack in several letters to court officials that date back to 1995, four years before Cole died.

The DNA results prompted Perry to pardon Cole posthumously in 2010.

"Only the love of a mother has that steadfastness and tenacity to never give up," said Session, policy director for the Lubbock-based Innocence Project of Texas, which campaigned for Cole's release.

The law championed by Ruby Cole Session also spurred other reforms meant to reverse wrongful imprisonments.

She was honored in May by the Texas Senate for her achievements as an educator, criminal justice reformer and "fierce champion of the wrongly accused," according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

"When my mom would talk to people, when she really wanted to get something through, she would grab both their arms," Cory Session said. She would also reach for their wrist, "somewhere where she could feel their pulse."

After one year rolled into another in the family's pursuit of a pardon for Cole, Session said his mother often turned to a common refrain: "Suffering breeds character and character breeds faith. And always hold on to your faith."
 

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