This is an unusual case because the murders took place in Georgia but the trials were in Florida courts. The reason given is that Florida tried the cases because the robbery and kidnapping of Carol and Reggie Sumner took place in that state. [Picture of Tiffany Ann Cole giving testimony.]
Women have to work particularly hard to make the cut. No, it’s not sports or the glass ceiling. It’s Florida’s execution chamber. Only two women have been put to death in Florida since 1924. Both, Judy Buenoano and Aileen Wuornos, were despicable serial killers.
Tiffany Ann Cole is the only female who currently has a date with Old Sharpie. Given the vagaries of the death penalty, whether she keeps that date is open to question. But whether she deserves it is not.
In 2005, Carol and James “Reggie” Sumner, both 61, moved from South Carolina to Florida for their health. They’d both worked hard all their lives before retiring. As a young man, James served in the Navy, then took a job with CSX Railroad. “He was just a very gentle, kind, and giving spirit,” said his step-daughter Rhonda Alford.
Carol had been shot by an abusive husband before she married Reggie. Former high school sweethearts, they were very much in love. She was employed for 25 years at The Citadel and Charleston Air Force Base before retiring.
By the time they reached their 60s, Reggie was a brittle diabetic and Carol was battling liver cancer. According to friends and family, she’d lost so much weight she’d become skeletal.
Tiffany Cole’s father was a long-time neighbor and friend of Reggie. Before the Sumners moved to Florida, they sold their Chevrolet Lumina to Tiffany, allowing her to make payments directly to them. She would sometimes drive to Florida to visit the Sumners, bringing along her friends.
Tiffany, 25 at the time of the murders, had a 24-year-old boyfriend named Michael James Jackson. Upon learning that Carol had sold a condominium for $ 90,000, Jackson and Cole began plotting to rob the couple. Drug addicts Bruce Nixon and Alan Lyndell Wade, both 19, were brought into the scheme. They were all losers of the worst kind.
On Independence Day, 2005, the quartet drove to southern Georgia, looking for a burial ground. Finding a remote site, Tiffany held a flashlight while the men dug a six-foot-deep trench.
On the evening of July 8, Nixon and Wade knocked on the door of the couple while Cole and Jackson waited outside in a rented Mazda RX-8. Nixon and Wade told Carol they needed to use her telephone and she invited them in. Immediately, they attacked her. They used a fake gun to subdue Carol and Reggie, then tied the couple with duct tape. After blindfolding them, they forced their terrified victims outside and stuffed them inside the trunk of their own Lincoln Town car.
Jackson and Cole followed the Town Car as they drove north toward the designated grave. Their job was to act as a decoy in case the police got suspicious of Nixon and Wade. (They were to speed away in the sporty Mazda so the police would pursue them.)
After arriving at the grave, Jackson and Wade dragged the Sumners out of the trunk. They walked the disabled couple a hundred feet to the pit and shoved them in. While Carol and Reggie were still alive, Jackson and Wade covered them with dirt. According to the autopsy, they died of “asphyxiation.” Dirt had been sucked into their lungs.
Using credit cards stolen from the couple, Jackson began to withdraw cash from their accounts. Jackson, Cole, and Wade stayed at hotels and partied, while Nixon went on a drug binge with the $ 250 he got for helping with the murders.
After Rhonda Alford contacted Jacksonville police about her missing mother, it didn’t take investigators long to identify the suspects. Thinking they could trick investigators, Cole called detectives and pretended to be Carol Sumner. She stated they were in Delaware. Jackson then called, impersonating Reggie. He attempted to persuade officers that their credit cards weren’t working properly.
At trial, Tiffany Cole’s attorneys alleged that she was under Jackson’s control and therefore was not responsible for the murders. The jury didn’t buy it. They convicted Cole of two counts of first degree murder and kidnapping along with lesser charges. They voted 9-3 to sentence her to death.
In sentencing her, Circuit Judge Michael Weatherby rejected the defense theory. He listed his reasons for believing that Cole was a willing participant: Cole introduced the three to the Sumners; she held a flashlight while the three men dug the grave in advance; she was present when the couple were abducted, bound and gagged, and driven to the pre-dug grave; she rented a car and used it to act as a “decoy” during the drive to Georgia; she bought the duct tape and gloves; and she pawned jewelry stolen from the couple. “She was thoroughly involved,” Weatherby stated.
Tiffany Ann Cole received two death sentences. Michael Jackson also received death sentences, as did Alan Lyndell Wade. Bruce Nixon was given 55 years with the possibility of parole after 25 years because of his cooperation and testimony against the other defendants.
NOTE: Since I first published this story, three more women have been sentenced to death in Florida. Ana Cardona of the infamous Baby Lollipops murder has been re-sentenced to death after having her first conviction overturned. Margaret Allen was convicted of torturing and murdering her housekeeper. And Emilia Carr kidnapped and killed her boyfriend's former wife.