Fugitive turns herself in from '99 Tulia drug bust

Amarillo Globe-News. Nov.3, 2001, Vol. 1, No.188
By Greg Cunningham

The last of 46 people indicted in connection with a controversial 1999 undercover drug sting in Tulia turned herself in Friday, setting up a court battle over the legitimacy of the arrests.

Tonya White, 32, turned herself in Friday afternoon at Potter County Detention Center after two years spent avoiding an arrest warrant for delivery of cocaine. White was joined at the jail by her attorney, Jeff Blackburn, and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations involved in the effort to change national drug policy.

"I was just tired of always having this thing hanging over me," White said before turning herself in. "This whole time I haven't been able to come home and see my family. I just wanted to come back and get this taken care of and see them."

White, who said she had been living in Shreveport, La., for the past two years, is the second suspect charged with selling drugs to undercover agent Tom Coleman to return to the area in the past two months. Zury Bossett, also charged with delivering cocaine to Coleman, was arrested Aug. 23 in Odessa for a traffic violation and was returned to Swisher County. Bossett is free on bond awaiting trial.

Although all eight of the Tulia defendants who previously went in front of juries were convicted and received long sentences, Blackburn said he is confident that he and his legal defense team will be able to clear White and Bossett. Their acquittals, he said, will then provide momentum for freeing the other defendants, most of whom accepted plea bargains.

"I think everybody is going to see just how different these cases are from the previous cases," Blackburn said. "I am extremely confident in the outcome and what the facts will show in court."

Blackburn made arrangements with officials in Potter and Swisher counties for White to turn herself in Friday and be released on bond.
District Judge Ed Self, who presided over most of the drug trials in Tulia, set bail at $25,000. White posted her bail Friday afternoon using donations from across the country and was released.

District Attorney Terry McEachern, who prosecuted most of the drug cases, was out of his office and could not be reached for comment.
White was accompanied by her mother, Mattie White, who has seen three of her other children locked up because of the drug sting. Mattie White said she was nervous for her daughter but also hopeful that Friday's action was the beginning of the end for her family's involvement with the arrests.

"I'm just sick and tired of all this," Mattie White said. "I've been through three of these already, and, God willing, this is the last one I'll ever have to go through. I've been hurt so much. I just take the pain and keep on going with God's help."

Tonya White said she was confident that she would be found innocent of the charge against her and hopeful that her case would help get her three siblings and others out of jail.

"I don't even know who Tom Coleman is," Tonya White said. "If I was to see him today, I wouldn't recognize him. There's no justice in this charge. It's time for all of this to be set straight."