Tiffany Cole is currently on Florida death row for the murders of her elderly neighbors. According to court documents Tiffany Cole , Alan Wade and her then boyfriend Michael Jackson planned to kidnap and rob the elderly couple before murdering them. The group predug a grave in Georgia two days before the double murder took place.
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The Florida Supreme Court is ordering new sentencing hearings for four inmates currently on the state’s Death Row, including one of three women residing there.
The high court on Thursday threw out the sentences because a jury did not unanimously recommend the death penalty in the cases. The Court ruled last year that death sentences have to be unanimous, and anyone sentenced after a 2002 ruling could be eligible for a new sentence.
Among those getting a new hearing is Tiffany Cole. She was convicted for her role in the 2005 murders of a Jacksonville couple that was buried alive.
The court also ordered a new sentencing hearing for Michael Bargo, who was convicted for taking part in 2011 the murder and torture of a Marion County teenager.
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In 2007, “Cole was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, and two counts of robbery for the 2005 murders of James and Carol Sumner.” Cole v. State, 36 So. 3d 597, 599 (Fla. 2010). On appeal, this Court set out the facts of the crimes:
The evidence presented at trial established that on the night of July 8, 2005, Cole and codefendants Michael James Jackson, Bruce Kent Nixon, Jr., and Alan Lyndell Wade robbed, kidnapped, and murdered the victims. At trial, the evidence primarily consisted of codefendant Nixon’s testimony, Cole’s taped interview with Homicide Detective David Meacham of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO), and Cole’s in-court testimony.
Cole was the only codefendant who knew the victims. The victims were friends with and previous neighbors of Cole’s father before the victims moved from the Charleston, South Carolina, area to Jacksonville, Florida. The victims also had recently sold Cole a vehicle and informed her that she was welcome at their home if she was ever in Jacksonville. The plan to rob and murder the victims evolved from knowledge that Cole already had about the victims and that she obtained from the victims in the weeks prior to the crimes.
Cole and Jackson met and became involved in a personal relationship two months before the crimes. During that two-month period, Cole and Jackson often traveled together. In June 2005, Cole and Jackson went to Jacksonville, Florida, to visit Jackson’s friend Wade. During this visit, Cole contacted the victims, and Cole and Jackson stayed one night at the victims’ home. During the visit, Mrs. Sumner informed Cole that she and Mr. Sumner had recently sold their home near Charleston, South Carolina, and had profited $99,000. Following the initial trip to Jacksonville and additional trips between Charleston and Jacksonville, Cole, Jackson, Wade, and Wade’s friend Nixon developed a plan to rob the victims. At the time of the crimes, Cole and Jackson were twenty-three years old and Wade and Nixon were eighteen years old. The victims were in their early sixties but were both in poor health and especially frail.
In preparation for the robbery, Nixon stole four shovels to dig a hole. From a rental agency in South Carolina, Cole had previously rented a Mazda RX–8, which she used to transport the group. Two days before the murders, Cole, Jackson, and Wade picked Nixon up in the Mazda. The group drove around until they selected a remote location—in Georgia, just across the Florida state line—to dig a large hole. While Cole held a flashlight, Jackson, Wade, and Nixon dug the hole, which was approximately four feet deep and six feet square. The group left the shovels at the hole when they completed the excavation. Nixon testified that in the two days after digging the hole, the foursome drove around discussing “what [they] were going to do” and “how [they] were going to do it.” He stated that the foursome planned the robbery together and that Cole was the one who knew the victims and who “set everything up.” The group initially did not know whether they would enter the Sumners’ home while the victims were home and kidnap the victims or wait until the victims were away from their home. Nixon testified that Cole knew when the victims would be away from their home for a doctor’s appointment. The foursome ultimately decided that they would kill the victims. Nixon testified that Jackson informed the others that he would kill the victims at the grave site by injecting them with a lethal dose of medication.
On the night of the crimes, July 8, 2005, Cole and her codefendants purchased duct tape and plastic wrap. Cole wrote a personal check for these items. Later that night, Cole drove the foursome to the victims’ home. Initially, Cole and Jackson remained outside in the rented Mazda. Wade and Nixon knocked on the door, and when Mrs. Sumner responded, Wade asked to use her telephone. After Mrs. Sumner allowed Wade and Nixon into her home, Wade ripped the telephone cord from the wall. Nixon held the victims at gunpoint with a toy gun, took the victims to a bedroom, and bound them with duct tape. After Wade and Nixon contacted Jackson through Nextel two-way radio phones—which the group used to communicate throughout the course of the crimes—Jackson entered the victims’ home. Jackson and Wade then searched the victims’ home for bank account records. Cole drove down the street and waited in the Mazda. Eventually, the victims were taken to their garage and forced into the trunk of their Lincoln Town Car. Cole drove back to the victims’ home in the Mazda after Jackson called her. Jackson placed a trash bag containing some of the victims’ belongings in the Mazda’s trunk and got into the Mazda. Wade and Nixon then drove the victims’ Lincoln to a gas station to refuel it, and Cole and Jackson followed in the Mazda.
The foursome, with the victims in the Lincoln’s trunk, then drove to the remote Georgia location where they had previously dug the large hole. Upon arrival, Cole remained with the Mazda at the edge of the road, while her codefendants drove the Lincoln into the woods to the hole. At some point, Nixon joined Cole at the road. The evidence shows that only Jackson and Wade were present at the hole when the victims were put into the hole and buried alive. When Jackson returned from the woods to the Mazda, Jackson had the personal identification number (PIN) for the victims’ automated teller machine (ATM) card. The foursome drove both cars from the grave site to Sanderson, Florida, where they wiped down the Lincoln and abandoned it. The foursome then left in the Mazda, with Cole driving.
The group next stopped at an ATM in Jacksonville, from which Jackson withdrew money from the victims’ bank account. The group then retired to a motel. Later that night, after purchasing Clorox and gloves, Cole and Wade returned to the victims’ home. The evidence shows that at that time Cole and Wade took the victims’ computer from the home. Subsequently, Cole pawned Mrs. Sumner’s rings and the victims’ computer.
On July 10, 2005, Rhonda Alford, Mrs. Sumner’s daughter, reported to the JSO that she had been unable to contact the victims for several days. That same day, Officer Vindell Williams of JSO spotted a Lincoln Town Car in Sanderson that was later determined to be the victims’ Lincoln. On July 12, 2005, Homicide Detective David Meacham of the JSO responded to the victims’ home to investigate. In their home, he saw a bank statement that showed a large sum of money in the victims’ bank account. After contacting the bank, he learned that during the past few days there had been an unusually large amount of ATM withdrawals—totaling several thousand dollars—from the victims’ account.
Later on July 12, Detective Meacham learned that someone claiming to be Mr. Sumner had contacted the JSO. Detective Meacham returned the call. The person claiming to be Mr. Sumner was later identified as codefendant Jackson. As Mr. Sumner, Jackson asked Detective Meacham to assist him in accessing his bank account; by that time Jackson was apparently having trouble accessing the account. As Mr. Sumner, Jackson explained that he and Mrs. Sumner had left town quickly to attend Mrs. Sumner’s sister’s funeral in Delaware. When Detective Meacham asked to speak to Mrs. Sumner, Cole posed as Mrs. Sumner and pretended to be tired and ailing. Detective Meacham contacted the bank and requested that it continue to allow access to the victims’ account so that Detective Meacham could continue his investigation.
Since Detective Meacham suspected that he was not actually speaking to the Sumners, he contacted United States Marshal David Alred to assist in tracking the cellular telephone number used by the callers. The cell phone was registered to Jackson and had been used near the victims’ home around the time of the victims’ abduction. The cell phone records also showed calls to a South Carolina rental car company. Detective Meacham contacted the company, which indicated that it had rented a silver Mazda RX–8 to Cole and that the car was overdue. Using the rental car global positioning system, law enforcement officers determined that the Mazda had been within blocks of the victims’ home on the night of the murders.
As Detective Meacham continued to investigate the victims’ disappearance, Jackson continued to withdraw money from the victims’ bank account. Jackson made multiple ATM withdrawals from the victims’ bank account between the early hours of July 9 and the night of July 13, 2005. Photo surveillance captured Jackson making several of these withdrawals. Cole drove Jackson to the ATM machines in the rented Mazda; the Mazda could be seen in some of the surveillance photographs.
Detective James Rowan of the North Charleston Police Department testified that he found the rented Mazda in the parking lot of an abandoned office building near the rental company. Detective Rowan went to Cole’s residence near Charleston, South Carolina, and David Duncan, Cole’s brother, led Detective Rowan and other officers to the nearby Best Western Hotel where Cole, Jackson, and Wade were staying. Two rooms were rented to Cole. At the motel, officers found and arrested Cole, Jackson, and Wade. The police obtained a search warrant for the motel rooms. In the motel room where Cole and Jackson were staying, police found the victims’ South Carolina driver licenses, credit cards, checkbook, mail, and papers indicating the victims’ America Online account and passwords, social security numbers, and birthdates. In the same room, police found what appeared to be a new laptop computer and bags of new merchandise. Additionally, officers found photographs showing Cole, Jackson, Wade, and another female, who was uninvolved in the crimes, “partying” in Myrtle Beach before the crimes. The victims’ ATM card was found in Jackson’s back pocket. In the motel room where Wade was staying, police found a key ring that belonged to the victims. The victims’ coin collection was found in the trunk of Cole’s car.
Detective Meacham testified that he drove to Charleston immediately after learning that Cole, Jackson, and Wade were apprehended. A recording of Detective Meacham’s July 14, 2005, interview of Cole was played for the jury. In it, Cole admitted that before the crimes she had gone to Myrtle Beach with Jackson, Wade, and another female uninvolved in the crimes. Cole stated that the group stayed in a hotel room, “[s]pending money up there, partying up there.” She stated also that on the return trip from Myrtle Beach, the group stopped at a flea market, where Wade and Jackson purchased pocketknives and BB guns that appeared to be real firearms. Cole admitted that she knew that Jackson, Wade, and Nixon were going to the victims’ home to steal things such as credit cards. Cole also admitted that she spent the victims’ money after the murders and impersonated Mrs. Sumner during the telephone call with Detective Meacham.
Codefendant Nixon was also arrested. Nixon revealed to law enforcement officers the location where the victims were buried, and on July 16, 2005, the victims’ bodies were discovered. Nixon testified that he understood that because of his guilty plea that he could receive a sentence between fifty-two years and life imprisonment without parole. Nixon understood that he would not be sentenced until after testifying against Wade. (Nixon had previously testified against Jackson.)
Dr. Anthony J. Clark, Medical Examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, performed autopsies on the bodies and testified that both of the victims died as a result of mechanical obstruction of the airways by dirt. Essentially, the victims were buried alive and asphyxiated from the dirt particles smothering their airway passages.
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The only white woman on Florida’s Death Row will ask the Florida Supreme Court to throw out her conviction and death sentence this week for robbing, kidnapping and burying a disabled Jacksonville couple alive.
Lawyers for Tiffany Cole, 33, will argue the attorneys who represented her during her criminal trial in Jacksonville were ineffective. Cole was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, armed robbery and kidnapping. A jury recommended death by a 9-3 vote and Circuit Judge Michael Weatherby concurred.
Tiffany Cole was one of four people who kidnapped Carol and Reggie Sumner, both 61, from their St. Nicholas home in 2005 and drove them to Charlton County, Ga., where they were buried alive.
Michael James Jackson, 27, the mastermind of the murder plot, and Cole’s boyfriend, Alan Lyndell Wade, 27, are also on Death Row. A fourth participant, 27-year-old Bruce Nixon, testified against the others and was sentenced to 45 years in prison for second-degree murder
They were arrested in Charleston, S.C., a week after the Sumners disappeared. Police found Jackson with the couple’s ATM cards and personal information.
In court filings attorney Wayne Henderson, who’s representing Cole on appeal, argues that defense lawyers Quentin Till and Greg Messore did a poor job during both the criminal trial and the sentencing phase of Cole’s case. Oral arguments in Cole’s appeal will occur Thursday.
Henderson argued that Till, the lead lawyer, expected to reach a plea deal for Cole and was unprepared for trial when Cole rejected the state’s offer.
Tiffany Cole didn’t believe she was guilty of first-degree murder because she didn’t personally kill the Sumners, saying that she did not “bury the bodies and therefore was not guilty.” But under Florida law someone who participates in a crime can be found equally culpable for a murder even if they didn’t pull the trigger or directly cause the death.
Henderson also argues that Messore, who handled the penalty phase, was unprepared because he didn’t join the case until a month before Cole’s trial began and was only properly certified to be a lawyer in death-penalty cases days before Cole’s trial began.
“Cole’s appointed trial counsel was ineffective in both the guilt and penalty phases for failing to adequately investigate her background and psychological deficiency in order to show that she was under extreme duress and effectively under the control of her co-defendants during the time of the offense,” Henderson said. “Had trial counsel sufficiently investigated Cole’s psychological makeup and history, they would have discovered that Cole does not interact well with men and is generally fearful, intimidated and willing to please.”
Till and Messore never investigated Cole’s mental-health or dysfunctional family history and substance-abuse problems. During the penalty phase, the jury heard nothing about Cole’s low intelligence level and mental health.
Tiffany Cole was an abused child who started running away at 12. She left home as a teenager and turned to drugs and prostitution, Henderson said.
Cole’s lawyers also didn’t object to evidence that had been seized in the case or make a motion to suppress statements Cole made after she was arrested. Till has acknowledged that he made a tactical decision to use Cole’s statements because he believed they supported their contention that she was a minor participant in the crime and a good person who got caught up with bad men.
But a large amount of the information introduced at trial, including that the Sumners’ strongbox was found in Cole’s car, hurt Cole and letting it in had no strategic benefit, Henderson said.
But prosecutors respond by saying that Till and Messore put on a solid defense.
Assistant Deputy Attorney General Carolyn Snurkowski, in filings to the Supreme Court, argues that Till did look into Cole’s mental health but decided the best defense would be to portray Cole as a non-violent good person who exhibited aberrant behavior after getting involved with Jackson.
Till believed that bringing out the bad parts of Cole’s life would not help her with the jury and preferred they not know that she’d been a prostitute and dealt drugs, Snurkowski said.
During a hearing to throw out the conviction, Till also testified that the strategy in the guilt phase was to show that Cole’s participation was marginal, she was not involved in the killings and didn’t know that the Sumners were going to be killed.
Till also said during that hearing that Cole had admitted to him that she had a bigger role in the kidnapping and murder than she’d previously said, Snurkowski said.
Till and Messore could not be reached for comment.
The Florida Supreme Court previously affirmed Cole’s death sentence in 2010. It did disagree with Weatherby’s finding that Cole’s behavior in the killing was especially heinous, atrocious and cruel because Cole didn’t bury them alive herself, but the court found that error didn’t justify setting aside the conviction or death sentence.
This second appeal occurred after Henderson moved to throw out the original conviction, and Weatherby denied the motion.
Tiffany Cole was the only one of the four who knew the Sumners. At one point the couple were friends and neighbors with Cole’s father in South Carolina, and they had sold a car to Cole and told her she was welcome at their house if she was ever in Jacksonville.
The plan to rob and murder the Sumners evolved from knowledge Cole had about the couple.
There are 394 people on Death Row and five of them are women. Two women are black and the other two are Hispanic.
It is unclear how long it will take the Supreme Court to rule on Cole’s appeal. But death-penalty appeals usually take months to decide after oral arguments occur.