Melissa Cole

On November 2, 2009 firefighters were called to the McNairy County Tennessee home of Gary Cole.  The fire would all but completely destroy the home, burning it to the ground but inside would lay the body of Gary Cole and the fire is not what killed him.  

It did not take long for investigators to figure out who they believed was responsible.... it was Gary's wife Melissa.  She would be indicted for 1st degree premeditated murder, along with arson and tampering with evidence in February of 2010. Melissa would have a short three day trial the following October. 

As is the case with most acts of violence towards a human being investigators first look at those closest to the victim and their lives.  In this case they of course went looking for Melissa right away.  Strangely it took several attempts to reach her.  Of course they wanted to ask her questions but they also wanted to notify her of Gary's death, as well as ensure the well being of the nine year old son she shared with Gary.  They had been informed of the child, as well as in essence the relationship between Melissa and Gary from other family members.

Some in the county would think it a bit deja vu when her trial began.  It was in the same court room as had stood Mary Winkler in 2007.  Mary had been charged with killing her pastor husband and leaving with their children. Mary would claim her husband had been physically and emotionally abusive hence her reason for murder.  Apparently it sounded like a good idea to Melissa who would claim many of the same things.  Mary Winkler had basically gotten away with little to no sentence and one has to wonder if Melissa was not hoping for the same.  Melissa was not as fortunate as Mary Winkler, but then again, Melissa still got what many consider to be a light sentence.

During the trial, another attorney had testified on the stand.  This attorney had represented Gary throughout the last year of his life.  On August 10, 2009, Gary had filed from divorce from Melissa.  Everything seemed to be in order and while the attorney would admit in court that some of the paperwork signed by Melissa was not in his presence, he had no reason to believe she had been coerced in any way.  He also indicated that he had at spoken to Melissa on at least one occasion and again, did not feel that there was any coercion involved. 

The attorney would testify that according to Gary the couple had not lived together since the previous May, although I was unable to determine if this was true or not.  The divorce stipulated that Melissa would receive her vehicle and $10,000 (she had received $2,500 of this by the time Gary died).  Gary would receive the home as well as primary custody of their nine year old son while Melissa had standard visitation without a child support obligation.  As is standard in Tennessee when there is a minor child involved, the courts required a ninety day waiting period before the divorce could be final.  It would have been final eight days after Gary's death.  However, despite the fact that Gary had also changed his Will through this same attorney not long after filing for the divorce, giving everything to his son, his death had vacated the divorce and under Tennessee law Melissa would have been entitled to at a minimum, 10% of the estate.

For her part initially, as is so often the case, Melissa denied any involvement. She would claim that he had called her on the day of his death stating that he was going to buy some medication illegally as he was running out of his (I did not determine what this was for other than he was disabled in some manner) and that he would be leaving for a few days but did not tell her where he was going.  She would claim that he gave her a check and his bank card so that she would have money while he was gone.  I gander to guess, although I found no proof that she was in possession of his bank card and needed to explain why.  

By the time her trial rolled around she was admitting to shooting Gary but the question became whether it was a justified shooting in self defense or cold blooded murder.  The defense would claim that Melissa had been abused by Gary.  They claimed Gary would beat, sexually assault and control Melissa to the point that she could not leave him.  She would apparently admit to shooting him in the head while he laid on the love seat around 7:30 that morning.  I found no information as to why she started the fire, but of course it is thought she did that to cover up the murder.  The defense would show that considering the changes done in the Will that Gary procured before his death Melissa would have only likely gotten approximately $2,700 more than she was already getting in the divorce and argued that was not enough to commit a murder.  The prosecution argued, and I have to say I agree, that most lay people do not do the research that would have been required for her to know this prior to the murder.  It is more likely that she knew the divorce would be vacated upon his death and that would mean that she would be entitled to his entire estate upon his death.  Even still it could be presumed that even if she knew the Will gave the estate to their child that with his death she would be the sole parent remaining, have her son and be in control of the funds. 

Ultimately it appears the jury did not believe her and she was found guilty of 2nd degree murder, arson and two counts of tampering with evidence.  She would receive twenty-one years for the murder; four years for the arson and three years on each of the tampering charges.  However, the arson and tampering charges would run concurrently meaning for a total of four years on those charges.  Added to the murder sentence she was given a total of twenty-five years.  The Tennessee Department of Corrections show that she is not eligible for parole until January of 2029 with an end date of her sentence in November of 2031.

Judging by the fact that the murder charge went from 1st degree with premeditation to 2nd degree and the sentence in which she received for the charge it appears that both the judge and the jury may have believed at least some of her story.  I would hope that for them to do so I may have missed something my research somehow.  I find it hard to believe that someone who supposedly had so much control over another person would be the one to file for the divorce.  It appears that there was no one available to substantiate her claims of abuse from Gary and the only ones making this claim was Melissa and her attorneys.  Now, the fact that she was only receiving her vehicle and a $10,000 settlement does seem a little odd especially considering that Gary retained the home and custody of their child.  But, without knowing more information about the character of Melissa or the core reason for the divorce I cannot say why this was agreed upon.  Did Gary have "something" on Melissa in which he felt he could use against her in the divorce?  Was this the "control" she was arguing about in court?  And even if it was a position of control for Gary, was this something that had occurred throughout the marriage or just during the divorce where it is said people often become very different than the person who was married.  

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