by Sharon Rondeau

(Mar. 26, 2023) — Just over three months ago, The Post & Email reported that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee found a mother of three convicted in 2017 of two drug-related crimes eligible for consideration for expedited parole.

In October that year, Cole was found guilty of participating in a scheme to sell methamphetamine in a drug-free zone, which referred to her proximity to a school.

On December 22, 2022, Cole was granted the commutation, along with 29 others, to expedited eligibility for parole based on the legislature’s change in a law governing mandatory enhanced sentencing stemming from drug distribution in a school zone.

At the same time, thirteen other individuals received full pardons from the governor and one granted a “commutation to time served.”

Cole has at all times denied the charges and appealed her conviction by petition and direct appeals. In April, she succeeded at the appellate level regarding the denial of her post-conviction petition by a lower trial court, only to have the judge issuing that rejection again deny her claim of ineffective assistance of counsel without conducting the “finding of fact” ordered by the higher court.

Then-Judge Robert “Bobby” Carter, Jr. was within days of retirement when he issued his opinion.

The statute to which Lee referred was amended by the legislature following Cole’s conviction, implemented September 1, 2020, and now states that a conviction on a charge of distributing drugs within 500 feet of a school zone allows for enhanced sentencing but no longer mandates it.

The Post & Email was told by a family acquaintance that Cole did not use an attorney to contact the governor regarding clemency, but rather, drafted the required documents and mailed them herself.

Currently at West Tennessee State Prison (WTSP), the Tennessee Board of Parole lists Cole’s parole hearing as scheduled for this Tuesday, March 28.

The final decision as to parole expedition was left to the BOP, the governor’s declaration states.

Cole was one of two co-defendants of Jason Lamar White, who continues his incarceration in New Mexico while strongly advocating for Cole’s innocence and release from prison.

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