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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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?
Female murderer Cole receives
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
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
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
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
"She was thoroughly involved," Weatherby said.
"She knew exactly what she was doing and participated without
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
"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
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
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
Jury Convicts After 90 Minutes Of Deliberations
October 20, 2007
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
"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
Defense attorneys maintained that Cole did not know Jackson, her
boyfriend, planned to kill the couple.