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Tiffany Ann COLE

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping - Robbery
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: July 8, 2005
Date of arrest: 4 days after
Date of birth: December 3, 1981
Victim profile: Carol and Reggie Sumner, both 61
Method of murder: Buried alive
Location: Duval County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on March 6, 2008
 
 

 
 
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Tiffany Cole, WF, born 12/3/81, was sentenced from Duval County on March 6, 2008 for her role in the double murder of a Jacksonville couple who was buried alive. She is currently on death row at Lowell Correctional Institution.


Tiffany Ann Cole (born December 3, 1981) was found guilty of the kidnapping and first-degree murder of a Duval County, Florida husband and wife and sentenced to death.

Also found guilty in the case were three men: Alan Wade, Bruce Nixon, and Cole's boyfriend Michael Jackson. Prosecutors said Cole and the three men developed a plan to kidnap and kill the couple to steal their money, and dug a grave for them in Charlton County, Georgia two days before knocking on their door and asking to use the phone.

Capital murder case

Cole was a familiar face to Carol and Reggie Sumner, having been a neighbor of the 61-year-old couple when they lived in South Carolina. Also, Cole had bought a car from them at the time the Sumners moved to Florida in March 2005. Cole and her boyfriend went to Florida in late June, 2005 to complete the paperwork on the car and stayed at the Sumner home. Shortly after that visit, in early July 2005, Cole and three men appeared at the Sumners home and asked to use the phone. Reggie Sumner was choked and forced to give the intruders his ATM card and its access number. He and his wife were bound and gagged with duct tape, put into the trunk of their car and driven across the border to Georgia, where, blindfolded and bound, they were pushed into the grave and buried alive.

Cole subsequently pawned jewelry and other items stolen from the Sumners' home, and the ATM card was used to obtain more than $1000 in cash. Three of the group were tracked back to a hotel in South Carolina by the use of the ATM card and arrested there. Juries were later shown photos of Cole and two co-defendants in a limousine, celebrating with champagne and handfuls of cash.

At Cole's week-long trial in October 2007, the jury deliberated less than 90 minutes before finding her guilty of first-degree murder. They voted 9 to 3 that she should receive the death penalty. Five months later, a judge handed down two death sentences for the murders, and a sentence to life in prison for the kidnappings. As of June 2011, she awaits execution at Lowell Correctional Institution Annex.

Cole is one of four women currently on Florida's death row, the others being Margaret Allen, Ana Maria Cardona, and Emilia Carr, all sentenced to death in unrelated cases.

Wade and Jackson also received two death sentences and await execution. Nixon, who had led police to the bodies and testified against the others, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 45 years in prison.


Deciding Depravity: Tiffany Cole

Cole v. State, 2010 Fla. LEXIS 359 (Fla., Mar. 11, 2010)

Diabolical mastermind or unknowing participant? This was the question the trial court was faced with when asked to decide the fate of Tiffany Ann Cole, an unlikely defendant, charged with two counts of first degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and two counts of robbery. Ultimately, the trial court jury sentenced her to death for the 2005 murders of James and Carol Sumner, who were buried alive by Cole and her co-conspirators in a series of events that are hard to believe.

The Plan

Tiffany Ann Cole had met James and Carol Sumner in South Carolina prior to their move to Jacksonville, Florida, as they were friends of Coleís father. They had recently sold a vehicle to Cole and offered up their home to her if she was ever in Jacksonville. In June 2005, Cole and Michael James Jackson, her significant other, traveled to Jacksonville to visit Jacksonís friend Alan Wade. Tiffany Cole phoned the Sumners, asking to stay the night. While visiting the couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sumner informed Cole about the $99,000 profit they had made on the sale of their previous South Carolina home.

The Sumners had essentially laid themselves to rest in that moment, as Tiffany Cole, Michael James Jackson, Alan Wade, and another friend of the group, Bruce Kent Nixon, Jr. formulated a plan to rob the victims. In preparation, Nixon stole four shovels in order to dig a hole, while Cole rented a Mazda RX-8. Two days prior to the murder, the group selected a remote location, in Georgia, and dug a large hole Ė approximately four feet deep and six feet square. Jackson, Wade and Nixon dug the hole, while Cole held the flashlight. The group ultimately decided to kill the Sumner couple by injecting them with a lethal dose of medication after throwing out the idea of going into the house when the couple left for a doctorís appointment or were away for another reason.

The Murders

On July 8, 2005, Cole and her co-defendants purchased duct tape and plastic wrap. When they arrived at the Sumner household, Cole and Jackson waited outside, knowing they would be recognized. Wade and Nixon rang the doorbell and asked Mrs. Sumner if they could use the phone. When granted entry, Wade ripped the telephone cord from the wall and Nixon used a toy gun to force the 60 year old couple into compliance, binding them with duct tape in their bedroom. After searching the house for bank account records, the victims were taken to the garage and forced into the trunk of their own Lincoln Town Car, which was driven by Wade and Nixon. Cole and Jackson went back to the Sumner house where Jackson gathered a bag of the coupleís belongings and put it into the Mazda.

The foursome drove to the Georgia location where they had previously dug the large hole. Cole and Nixon remained at the end of the road with the Mazda, while the other two defendants took the Lincoln into the woods. Evidence shows that Jackson and Wade were able to retrieve the PIN number to the Sumnerís bank account and ATM card from the couple and then subsequently buried the couple alive. The foursome left the site and discarded the Lincoln, continuing in the Mazda to an ATM where they withdrew money from the victimís bank account. Cole and Wade returned to the victimís home later that night after purchasing Clorox and gloves. They took the victimís computer and jewelry, subsequently pawning the items.

Capture

Homicide detectives learned of the murders when Mrs. Sumnerís daughter contacted them to explain that she had been unable to reach her mother for several days. On July 12, 2005, detectives learned that unusually large sums of money were being withdrawn from the victimís bank account. Detectives then discovered that someone claiming to be Mr. Sumner, later revealed to be Michael James Jackson, had contacted them. Returning the call, Jackson, as Mr. Sumner, asked for assistance in accessing Ďhisí bank account. The detective asked to speak to Mrs. Sumner and so Cole posed as Mrs. Sumner on the phone for detectives. Detectives, suspicious of the phone calls, used cellular tracking to triangulate the calls. The cell phone history revealed the Mazda rental and, using the GPS, the defendants were soon tracked to a hotel.

In the hotel where Cole, Jackson and Wade were staying, police found the victimís drivers licenses, credit cards, checkbook, mail and papers indicating the victimís online passwords, social security numbers and birthdates. There was also a new laptop and bags of new merchandise as well as the victimís coin collection.

Nixon is the only defendant to have plead guilty. Jackson and Wade were tried separately and each was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and received two death sentences. Cole was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and two counts of robbery, which brought with it two death sentences, one for each murder.

The Appeal

Tiffany Cole claimed that she believed the crime would be a simple theft and that she did not knowingly participate in the robberies, kidnappings or murders. She also insisted that she did not know the victims were in the trunk of the Lincoln until she arrived at the gravesite. Cole, was, however, the only one of the four defendants to have known the defendants previously.

In charging her with first-degree murder, the heinous, atrocious, cruel aggravator was applied for each count. In her appeal, Cole argues that the trial court erred in instructing the jury on and in finding the heinous, atrocious, cruel aggravator factor (HAC). She claims that although the murders did qualify as HAC, as the victims were buried alive and the medical examiner named cause of death as Ďmechanical obstruction of the airways by dirtí, the aggravating factor should not be vicariously applied to her based on the manner of death her co-defendants chose.

The court notes that the application of HAC to defendants who did not directly cause the victimís death had been previously upheld where the defendant was particularly physically involved in the events leading up to the victimís murder, Cave v. State (1998), Copeland v. State (1984). However, as noted by the appellate court, this case bears the most similarity to Omelus v. State (1991) and the more recent Perez v. State (2005).

In Omelusł the appellate court ruled that the trial court had indeed erred in applying HAC where the defendant was not the actual killer, even though he had hired the killer, because there was no evidence that the defendant knew how the killer would carry out the murder. The holding stated that HAC, ďcannot be applied vicariously, absent a showing by the State that the defendant directed or knew how the victim would be killed.Ē In Perez, HAC was also found to be erroneously vicariously applied, despite the fact it was evidenced that Perez was involved in the preparation for the robbery, in covering up the murder and in pawning the victimís belongings.

The finding in the present case mirrors the above precedents. The heinous, atrocious, cruel aggravator was found to be erroneously vicariously applied to Cole. There was no clear competent, substantial evidence to support a finding that Cole had directed her co-defendants to bury the victims alive or knew, for certain, that this would be their manner of death.

The appellate court, when striking an aggravator, must ensure that there is Ďno reasonable possibility that the error affected the sentence.í In the present case, there are six remaining aggravators, when HAC is removed. There was also minimal mitigation that did not weigh greatly in the courtís mind. In sum, the appellate court found that there was no reasonable possibility that the error contributed to the sentence. Coleís convictions and sentences were affirmed.

Conclusions

Was Florida right to remove the heinous, atrocious, cruel aggravator from her case? Tiffany Coleís conviction and death sentences were upheld, however, this particular aggravator was removed, concluding that Cole did not know how the Sumners were going to be murdered in such a heinous manner. Was she really oblivious to the plans Jackson and Wade had for Mr. and Mrs. Sumner or did she keep herself at a distance to protect herself? Does her gender affect the level of depravity evidence in the planning and execution of these crimes? How does Coleís previous relationship with the Sumners factor into her culpability? Moreover, does the existence of co-conspirators mediate the amount of blame placed on each defendant, or are they all equally culpable?

How do you feel about this crime, itís level of depravity and itís relation to The Depravity Scale? Take a look at the items and ask yourself how culpable you feel Cole is. Was she a criminal mastermind, planning and executing a crime, keeping herself at a distance to escape the full prosecution of the law, or was she involved in the beginning planning stages where she became a mere cog in the machine, unknowing and unwilling in the depraved and heinous murder of a couple by burying them alive?

DepravityScale.org


Female murderer Cole receives death sentence

She will join two of her three partners on state's Death Row

By Paul Pinkham - Jacksonville.com

March 7, 2008

The lone woman convicted in the murders of a disabled Jacksonville couple who were buried alive played a key role in their killings and should be put to death, a judge ordered Thursday.

The sentence will make Tiffany Ann Cole, 26, the only woman on Florida's Death Row. Two of her co-defendants also have been sentenced to death.

"All of these defendants got exactly what they deserved," said Chief Assistant State Attorney Jay Plotkin, who tried all three cases. "Justice was done."

Cole's lawyers argued that she wasn't a major participant in the 2005 robbery, kidnapping and murders of Carol and Reggie Sumner, both 61. They said she was under the control of her boyfriend, Michael James Jackson, who masterminded the murder plot.

But Circuit Judge Michael Weatherby disagreed, noting that Cole held a flashlight when a grave was pre-dug near St. George, Ga., and was present when the Sumners were driven there bound and gagged in the trunk of their car. She knew the Sumners, who were friends of her parents and introduced them to their killers.

The judge said she purchased the duct tape and gloves and later pawned jewelry and other items stolen from the Sumners' home. During a phone call to Jacksonville police while the killers were at large, Cole impersonated Carol Sumner in a failed attempt to convince detectives the Sumners were still alive.

"She was thoroughly involved," Weatherby said. "She knew exactly what she was doing and participated without hesitation."

The last Jacksonville woman sentenced to death was Andrea Hicks Jackson, 50, who fatally shot a police officer in 1983. She later was re-sentenced to life.

Florida has executed two women since re-instating the death penalty: serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2002 and Judy Buenoano, convicted of poisoning her husband, in 1998.

"Whether you label it chauvinism or chivalry, judges and juries are very hesitant to sentence women to death," said Robert Batey, who teaches criminal law at Stetson University College of Law.

Florida State University College of Law professor Wayne Logan said other factors are that women tend to commit fewer premeditated or heinous murders and don't usually have lengthy criminal records. Both are factors that juries and judges can weigh in favor of imposing a death sentence.

Cole didn't have a "substantial" record, but Weatherby found the murders were heinous and premeditated. Jurors recommended 9-3 that she be executed.

Cole will go to Lowell Correctional Annex near Ocala, where the Department of Corrections has three women's Death Row cells. One is occupied by Virginia Larzelere, who is awaiting a new sentencing hearing in the 1991 murder-for-hire of her husband in Edgewater. Last week, the Florida Supreme Court upheld a judge's 2005 ruling undoing Larzelere's death sentence on grounds that her trial lawyers were ineffective.

Cole briefly bowed her head, then turned and mouthed "I love you" to her weeping mother as Weatherby announced his sentence. Death penalty cases are automatically reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court.

Her court-appointed attorney, Quentin Till, said she was prepared for the decision. He said he visited her in jail Wednesday night.

"I told her to be strong," Till said. "... I still see her being utilized and manipulated by Michael Jackson."

After the murders, the killers used the Sumners' bank cards to drain their accounts. Jacksonville homicide detectives, aided by federal marshals, used those transactions to trace Cole, Jackson and 20-year-old Alan Lyndell Wade to a motel in North Charleston, S.C., where they were arrested.

Weatherby also sentenced Jackson and Wade to die. A fourth defendant, 20-year-old Bruce Nixon, testified against the others and was sentenced to 55 years in prison for second-degree murder.

For the Sumners' family, the sentence ends years of coming to court and listening to the gruesome details of the murders. Revis Sumner, Reggie Sumner's brother, said Cole wrote to the family asking for forgiveness, and he said he has forgiven her.

That doesn't mean she shouldn't suffer for her actions, he and other relatives said.

"I pray for Tiffany. I pray for all of them," said the Rev. Jean Clark, Reggie Sumner's sister. "I'm grieved that these four young people have wasted their."


Jury Finds Tiffany Cole Guilty In Double Murder

Jury Convicts After 90 Minutes Of Deliberations

News4jax.com

October 20, 2007

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Duval County jury late Friday convicted a 25-year-old woman of first-degree murder for her role in the deaths of a St. Nicholas couple, whose bodies were found in a shallow grave in Charlton County, Ga.

After a week-long trial, it took only 90 minutes for the jury to find Tiffany Cole guilty of two counts of murder in the deaths of Carol and Reggie Sumner. Prosecutors said they were taken from their home in July 2005, forced to turn over the access number to their ATM card, then buried alive.

Cole was also found guilty of two counts of kidnapping and two counts of robbery.

Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty for Cole.

"This one deserves to suffer. She deserves to pay the ultimate price, I think," said Carol Sumner's son, Fred Hallock, as he left the courtroom. "Anybody (who) wants to feel sorry for this woman, all they need to do as look at the pictures of them taking them out of that grave."

The verdict came hours after Cole testified that she was a part of a scheme to rob the husband and wife, but had no idea the husband and wife were to be killed.

Four people were arrested and charged in the case.

Michael Jackson was convicted in May of first-degree murder in this case and sentenced to death. Bruce Nixon pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is awaiting sentencing. Alan Wade is scheduled to go on trial next week.

In the course of her two-hour testimony, Cole told the court that she thought they were only going to steal from the Sumners. When she found out a shallow grave was dug for the couple, she said she was shocked.

"Michael Jackson got the PIN codes and then he pushed them in the hole," Cole testified under questioning by her attorney.

"You're hanging out with this guy for a month and the next thing you know he's just abducting someone and kidnapping someone and burying them in a hole, and your just unlucky enough to be with him, right?," prosecutor Jay Plotkin during cross examination.

"That's right," Cole replied.

Earlier in the trial, prosecutors made the case that Cole was the connection between all four defendants and the victims. Cole was a neighbor of the Sumners in South Carolina before they moved to Jacksonville and investigators said she befriended the couple, then brought in her friends to commit the crime.

Cole was the last witness in the trial.

In closing arguments, prosecutors told the jury that Cole was present when the grave was dug two days before the Sumners were abducted.

Defense attorneys maintained that Cole did not know Jackson, her boyfriend, planned to kill the couple.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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