Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carroll Edward Cole


Cole was transferred from Las Vegas to Nevada's state prison at Carson City on November 6, 1984. Ironically, that morning brought an announcement from the warden's office that the prison's death chamber—out of service due to gas leaks for the past five years—was once again open for business. State legislators had saved themselves a $20,000 repair bill by voting for lethal injection in 1983, and the changeover was finally complete.

If Cole died on schedule, he would be Nevada's first inmate to get the needle.

Carroll Edward Cole in 1985 (prison photo ID)
Carroll Edward Cole in 1985
(prison photo ID)

For the next eleven months, Cole doggedly resisted all outside attempts to file appeals on his behalf. The attempts were fewer than expected, in light of his crimes, as most civil libertarians balked at defending a confessed serial killer and cannibal. Nevada's Supreme Court affirmed Cole's death sentence on October 22, 1985 and Judge Leavitt convened a hearing three weeks later, fixing the date of execution as December 6.

Cole had just over three weeks to live.

He spent the time quietly, completing a handwritten autobiography that ran to some 100,000 words, granting permission for a Las Vegas neurosurgeon to study his brain after death, in an effort to explain his violent life. On December 4 he was moved to a seven-by-seven-foot "last night cell," under 24-hour suicide watch to prevent him from cheating the state. The next day, three other death row inmates filed an appeal with the state supreme court on Cole's behalf, declaring him "legally insane," but the court rejected their petition in a special nighttime session.

At 1:43 a.m. on December 6, Cole entered the execution chamber before an audience of selected witnesses. By 2:05 a.m. he was strapped to the table with needles inserted in both arms. Warden George Sumner signaled for the execution to proceed, a lethal cocktail of chemicals flowing into Cole's veins on command. His body convulsed at 2:07 a.m. and then relaxed. The prison's physician pronounced him dead three minutes later. Emerging from the theater of death moments later, Dan Seaton told the TV cameras, "It is enjoyable to see the system work."

Unfortunately, in the case of Eddie Cole it took four decades, 16 wasted lives and countless dollars to complete the job.