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It was an odd bust. The 39 residents of Tulia, Texas, charged as drug dealers, weren’t found with drugs during the 1999 mass arrests. They couldn’t afford the powdered cocaine they were accused of dealing. And the cases, against nearly 10 percent of the black population in town, rested almost entirely upon the uncorroborated word of a single narc who allegedly used the N-word after the arrests.

Yet the local prosecutor pushed forward. His aggressive advocacy met a combination of a friendly judge, underfunded defense lawyers, and tough jurors, and he won convictions against almost all of the defendants. Many faced decades in prison; one was sentenced to 99 years.

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