While much has been reported about Timothy Cole’s wrongful conviction, death in prison, exoneration and the legislation occurring as a result of his story, not much has been told about who Cole was as a man.
It is this that inspired Jared Christopher, a reporter and videographer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, to film a documentary about Cole.
Cole, a former Texas Tech student from Fort Worth, was wrongly convicted of the rape of another Tech student, according to the Innocence Project website.
Cole died in prison in 1999 while serving a 25-year sentence for that conviction. He was later exonerated after The Innocence of Project of Texas received a letter from Jerry Wayne Johnson, the actual perpetrator, according to the website, and decided to take on Cole’s case and fight for his exoneration.
Since then, the Timothy Cole Act was passed and the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions was instituted, both dealing with wrongful convictions in the state of Texas.
Christopher said he first heard of Cole’s story in 2014 when covering the unveiling of a Timothy Cole statue in Lubbock that stands on the corner of University Avenue and 19th Street.
“By the time I was done with that video (of the unveiling) I had pretty much decided after talking to my wife,” he said, “I said, ‘Look, this is something I need to pursue because this is a story that just hasn’t been told and is way too powerful to just go untold.’”
He said he got into the business mainly to tell people’s stories and write about people, something that drew him to Cole’s story.
Cory Session, one of Cole’s brothers, said he is happy someone is telling Cole’s story beyond his wrongful conviction.
“The wrongful conviction was only a part of Tim’s life,” Session said. “It is the most noteworthy, but there was another side to Tim that he would give away $14,000 while in prison to various charities.”
The movie is currently in the pre-production phase, Christopher said, which includes fact gathering, researching and getting commitments from people he wants involved in the documentary.
There is a list of 20 people who are “must haves,” he said, of which 17 have committed to being in the documentary.
“I’m talking to anybody that might have known somebody that knew Tim Cole,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in telling a story that I could just go to a library and dig up all the archived stories or reading the court transcripts and converting it into a story.”
Christopher said he started talking with the family, and then branched out to members of The Innocence Project, people who were involved in research about Cole or wrongful convictions.
Session said he was elated when Christopher approached the family and told them he was interested in making a documentary about Cole.
“I had seen some of Jared’s work before and it’s the way he tells a story that I thought if he ever did a documentary about Tim or a short film, he knows how to tell and story and bring it to life, and Tim’s story has never been told in a documentary,” he said. “I don’t think they (a big production company) could do a better job than what I’ve seen Jared Christopher do already.”
Christopher said he has also gotten commitments from Jerry Wayne Johnson, the man who actually committed the rape Cole was accused of, and Michelle Murray (Malin), the woman who was raped.
Instead of traveling with a big crew of people, Christopher said he likes to sit down one-on-one with the person he is interviewing and his camera and go from there.
“I’m passionate about it being that way because when I do things like this I spend a lot of time,” he said. “I dedicate a lot of my time to a project, and that means taking time away from my family. I have three young children myself and so anything that I do, I want to make sure it matters and I want to make sure it’s meaningful.”
Christopher said his number one goal for the documentary is to humanize Cole.
“So many people are so focused on the tragedy and forget that there’s a face behind that tragedy,” he said. “There was a mother who lost her son and brothers and sisters who lost their best friend and we need to tell people who this man was and what he stood for.”
Tentatively, Christopher said the documentary will be completed by Summer 2016.
“I told Reggie (one of Cole’s brothers), ‘I don’t want to rush this,’” Christopher said. “’I want to take our time and make sure we do it right so we can just do it once and it can be the definitive version of Tim’s story,’ and Reggie said, ‘I’ve been waiting 25 years for this and we can wait one more year.’”