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Estranged father of exonerated Texas inmate seeks payout

Last week we wrote about a man whose ex-wife sought a portion of his compensation for being wrongly imprisoned. Coincidentally, the man who inspired the fund that paid the exoneree is at the center of a similar family law debacle.

Tim Cole spent 14 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit. After he was posthumously cleared of the crime, his family received more than $1 million. Then his estranged father showed up demanding half the money, even though he wasn't part of his son's life and never paid child support.

Nine years after Cole died in prison, a DNA test cleared him of the crime. In 2009 the Timothy Cole Act was created, which increased the compensation for those wrongfully convicted. Cole's family received $1.06 million in May, and his mother was put in charge of the estate. But earlier this month, Cole's father showed up at a hearing demanding half the funds after not being in contact with his family for decades. He obtained a court order stating that he was one of Cole's heirs and that the estate should be divided equally between him and Cole's mother. A hearing on that ruling is expected, though it's unclear when it will be.

Cole's mother said the father wanted nothing to do with his son as soon as he was born, and his name isn't listed on the birth certificate. She said that if the father of her son is awarded part of Cole's compensation, she will sue him for back child support.

The conflict raises an important question for parents who don't pay some or any child support. Although it appears Cole's father didn't offer any emotional support, either, many parents who can't afford child support payments are still personally invested in their children. What rights do they have, if any, and who should decide that? The final decision on the Cole family ruling could set an interesting precedent.

Source: Star-Telegram, "Father of Tim Cole, a wrongly convicted Texas man who was exonerated after dying in prison, wants half of state's payout," Will Weissert, Dec. 23, 2011

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