In the summer of 1999, in the tiny west Texas town of Tulia, thirty-nine people, almost all of them black, were arrested and charged with dealing powdered cocaine. The operation, a federally-funded investigation performed in cooperation with the local authorities, was based on the work of one notoriously unreliable undercover officer. At trial, the prosecution relied almost solely on the uncorroborated, and contradictory, testimony of that officer, Tom Coleman. Despite the flimsiness of the evidence against them, virtually all of the defendants were convicted and given sentences as high as ninety-nine years. Tom Coleman was named a Texas Lawman of the Year for his work.
Tulia is the story of this town, the bust, the trials, and the heroic legal battle that ultimately led to the reversal of the convictions in the summer of 2003. Laws have been changed in Texas as a result of the scandal, and the defendants have earned a measure of bittersweet redemption. But the story is much bigger than the tale of just one bust. As Tulia makes clear, these events are the latest chapter in a story with themes as old as the country itself. It is a gripping, marvelously well-told tale about injustice, race, poverty, hysteria, and desperation in rural America.
"Reading this gripping account of the appalling Tulia case brought to mind Bill Gillespie, the police-chief played so convincingly by Rod Steiger in the film The Heat of the Night. Being real life, Blakeslee's story is much worse: 39 people, almost all black, convicted for drugs on the testimony (uncorroborated and contradictory) of one police officer. That he was uncovered and a colossal legal battle reversed the convictions goes some way towards mitigating a terrible miscarriage of justice." Publishing News "Blakeslee's riveting account of what proved to be a gross miscarriage of justice does not shy away from the moral complexities of the case...This is strong stuff and would make an interesting tale in almost any hands. But Nate Blakeslee uses his considerable journalistic skill and invaluable local knowledge to turn his account of what happened in Tulia into something exceptional... this account is utterly compelling. The next time you feel the urge to pick up a thriller, don't. Read Tulia instead." Scotland on Sunday "Tulia is a splendid read: engagingly and enthusiastically written, with close attention to detail and a grim sense of tragedy. By focusing on the experience of individuals such as Joe Moore, Blakeslee gives the tale a powerfully personal thrust, but what is really disturbing is that the case was not especially unusual. No one reading this book can fail to be horrified by the staggeringly corrupt and incompetent Texas justice system - a system capable of sentencing dozens of men for crimes they palpably never committed." Daily Telegraph"