Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carroll Edward Cole

Reckoning

Carroll Edward Cole testifies at Dallas trial (Dallas Morning News)
Carroll Edward Cole testifies at
Dallas trial
(Dallas Morning News)

Cole's murder confessions in Dallas rang bells in Las Vegas, where Det. Joe McGuckin heard the news and booked a flight to Texas on December 3, 1980. His interview with Cole convinced McGuckin that he had solved the homicides of Kathlyn Blum and Marie Cushman, but knowing the killer was not the same thing as bringing him to justice. Texas had Cole on ice for a 25-year minimum, making it doubtful that he would ever face trial in Nevada—unless Cole himself collaborated in the effort.

A guard tower at the state prison in Huntsville Texas (AP)
A guard tower at the state prison in
Huntsville Texas (AP)

Eddie, meanwhile, had other plans. In November 1982, after nearly two years inside, he began plotting an unscheduled exit from the Texas state prison at Huntsville. "By now," he later wrote, "escape was my only thought, and I began to put an elaborate plan in effect." He stole food coloring, to dye his white prison uniform a less conspicuous hue, and Tabasco sauce for his shoes, to throw tracking dogs off the scent. Angling for a transfer to the prison's garden crew, he planned to overpower a guard, take his weapon, and run as if his life depended on it—which it might, considering the temper of his guards. Then, on the eve of his planned escape, Cole was injured in a prison wood shop accident and transferred to a new facility, his plans all gone for nothing.

In January 1984 Cole received a letter from California, advising him of his mother's death. A month later, on February 15, Nevada authorities formally announced their intent to extradite Cole and try him on capital murder charges. Cole waived extradition on March 30 1984, and Las Vegas detectives were sent to fetch him on April 9. In lieu of escape, Cole had decided he would rather die.

Judge Myron Leavitt in the mid-1980's
Judge Myron Leavitt in the
mid-1980's

Nevada prosecutors were anxious to oblige. A psychiatrist examined Cole in May 1984, and two more in July; all agreed that he was sane and competent for trial. On August 16 Cole appeared before Judge Myron Leavitt and pled guilty on two counts of first-degree murder. Attorney Tom Pitaro, appointed as "standby" counsel over Cole's objections, protested Cole's "attempt to commit legal suicide." In fact, Pitaro argued, Cole had no right to determine his own punishment and thereby "undermine the integrity of the court." For the good of society at large, Pitaro said, he should be granted leave to search for mitigating circumstances.

Cole had a simpler, more direct perspective. "I believe in capital punishment," he declared. "I don't see where [Pitaro] is going to come up with this stuff, because there's nothing good about me."

Cole's penalty hearing convened on October 12, 1984, before a panel of three judges. Judge Leavitt was joined for the occasion by colleagues Richard Legarza and Norman Robinson. District Attorney Dan Seaton called as witnesses detectives from Las Vegas, Dallas, Missouri and Wyoming to confirm Cole's admissions of serial murder. Two officers from San Diego also testified, but their confused descriptions of the several cases in their city added nothing to the presentation. Cole capped the testimony with his own on October 12, reminding the judges that "within about five more years [he] would be eligible for parole" in Texas (false), and "if not that, I got very ample chances to escape from the Texas Department of Corrections."

The panel took Cole at his word and sentenced him to die for Marie Cushman's murder. Execution was barred in Kathlyn Blum's death, since Nevada had no death penalty in May 1977. It hardly mattered, though.

In Cole's case, one death sentence was enough.

 

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