DALLAS CASE RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT PLEAS
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 4:36 a.m. ET
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Wesley Ronald Tuley pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges, but recanted when his accuser testified that she had made up the allegations.
For now, Texas' courts have decided to accept the reversal and ordered that Tuley be released from prison. But prosecutors want him back behind bars.
Advocates for criminal defendants called it an important victory for people who can provide evidence of innocence after they have been convicted.
``The stakes were very high in this case,'' said Keith Hampton, of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, who helped Tuley's lawyers write his appeal.
``Nobody wants to recognize they have an innocent person in the (jail) system. He ain't the only one.''
But Laura Anne Coats, a prosecutor in the case, said if the court's decision stands, guilty defendants will try to pressure witnesses to change their stories.
Tuley, 33, was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual assault of his girlfriend's daughter. He later said he was pressured into pleading guilty.
In a 5-4 ruling, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said in December that innocence trumps a guilty plea. The panel overturned Tuley's conviction.
After the ruling on Dec. 18, Tuley sat in jail while prosecutors crafted their appeal. He was finally released on $25,000 bail on Feb. 7, with the condition that he wear an ankle monitor and register with police as a sex offender.
Tuley lives in Dallas with his father, and says he is only allowed to look for work on weekday mornings. Before prison, he did commercial outdoor lighting.
``It's nice to be out,'' Tuley said in a phone interview this week. ``I just hope the appeals court sticks with their first decision or I'll be back in prison.''
Tuley's case dates to 1997, when the daughter of his then-girlfriend accused him of attacking her.
Tuley served 10 months in jail awaiting trial. The jury came back deadlocked at 10-2. He didn't know that the 10 favored acquittal.
The prosecutor offered him a deal: plead guilty, get out of jail and serve 10 years probation.
``She said she would give me five minutes to decide,'' Tuley said. ``I didn't really want to take the plea, but I was pretty much out of options.''
Tuley said he didn't want to sit in jail awaiting a new trial and couldn't afford to keep his attorney.
As part of his probation, Tuley was required to participate in sex-crime therapy classes. He said he angered the counselors because he wouldn't acknowledge committing a sex crime.
``I had hell with the classes,'' he said. ``There's a bunch of sick people in there.''
Tuley said stress drove him to resume using drugs, an old habit. His probation was revoked two years later and he went to prison.
Tuley appealed his imprisonment, armed with sworn testimony from the girl that she made up the charges because she didn't want Tuley involved with her mother. Tuley admits the relationship involved drugs and fighting.
After considering the girl's new statements and supporting testimony, the judge said that evidence of innocence ``far outweighed'' any evidence of guilt.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the judge's decision, saying that ``no rational jury would convict'' him.
The court minority said in a dissenting opinion that Tuley was afforded ``awesome constitutional protections'' and gave a legally valid and voluntary guilty plea. The judges recommended that he ask the governor's office for clemency.
``Is the state to presume that this court believes recantations are always to be believed and should always refute guilty pleas?'' prosecutors said in their brief.
Coats, the assistant prosecutor who prepared the county's appeal, told The Associated Press that she is not convinced of Tuley's innocence.
``Only he and the girl will ever know what really happened,'' Coats said.