Twins Tragedy in Tulia

Landis Barrow went to prison back in 2000 on the twisted word of undercover agent Tom Coleman.  (In the mugshots to the left, Landis is #2; see if you can pick out his twin brother, Mandis.)  Now the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has granted Mr. Barrow a re-do of the revocation hearing that put him in prison.  Landis and his twin brother Mandis were implicated in an Amarillo robbery in 1996 and given ten-year probated sentences.  Tom Coleman claimed to have purchased drugs from “the twins” in 1998 but the state had a problem: since no one, even their mother, could tell the twins apart, how could Coleman know which twin handed him the dope?

There were other problems.  Eliga “Man” Kelly was with Coleman at the time of the alleged sale and Kelly wasn’t backing up Coleman’s story.  “Mandis asked me why was I still riding around with that police,” Kelly said in a signed affidavit. Coleman walked up “and asked me were those the twins? I told him yes and he asked Mandis where could he get some smoke? Mandis told him that he didn’t sell dope and he didn’t know where to get any and furthermore don’t ever approach him about any dope. Then the twins drove off very mad.”

The simple solution was to drop the drug charges and use Coleman’s allegations to revoke the Twins’ probation. 

So why are you just hearing about Landis and Mandis Barrow now? 

I wrote an article about the Twins for the Texas Observer  and the Amarillo Globe-News in 2004 , but that’s the only press they ever received.  When Governor Rick Perry pardoned 35 of Coleman’s victims a few months later, the “Tulia 46” were presented to the world as the innocent victims of a racist plot.  No one could go to bat for Landis and Mandis without addressing that inconvenient theft charge from 1996.  Attorneys associated with the Tulia defendants felt they couldn’t risk the negative publicity, so the Twins were left to languish in prison.

Here’s the real irony: Landis and Mandis received their share of a $6 million legal settlement but could only spend their money on tooth paste and chocolate bars in the prison commissary.

Here’s what I had to say five years ago:

[Judge] Emerson nodded patiently as officer Coleman entangled himself in a bizarre web of deception. Coleman said he bought drugs from Mandis Barrow on June 23, then remembered it never happened. Coleman testified he had no idea which of the Barrow twins sold him the dope on September 3, then remembered that Eliga Kelly had cleared up his identification problem. Coleman said he had been suspended from active duty in May of 1998, then remembered that the suspension didn’t go into effect until August. Finally, the Texas Law Officer of the Year alleged a criminal conspiracy hatched by a vindictive sheriff. Judge Don Emerson must have been convinced by Coleman’s grotesque performance because he ruled for the state and sentenced Mandis Barrow to 20 years in prison.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the judge’s decision. The June 23 indictment had obviously been “mistakenly filed” but “an honest mistake does not rise to the level of perjury,” the court declared. Coleman may not have been able to distinguish Landis from Mandis, but it was conceivable that Eliga Kelly “had identified which twin passed the controlled substance to Coleman.” Finally, the Appeals Court argued, if Judge Emerson was convinced by Coleman’s testimony, no perjury had been committed by definition.

Now, almost five years after Tom Coleman was found guilty of aggravated perjury, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided to change its mind.

I have stayed in touch with the Twins over the years.  They sent me a card every Father’s day and kept me apprised of their ongoing legal battle.  Mandis called me  when he was released from prison a few months ago.  Yesterday, I received the good news from Landis. 

Hopefully, we haven’t heard the end of this story.