by Sharon Rondeau

(Apr. 11, 2023) — Following a March 28, 2023 parole hearing and subsequent change in her posted TDOC status, on Tuesday The Post & Email obtained confirmation from Tennessee Board of Parole (BOP) spokesman Dustin Krugel that Kristina Yvette Cole, inmate #583144, has been granted parole by a three-member panel.

Just before Christmas, Cole was recommended by Gov. Bill Lee for executive clemency given a 2020 change in the law which had imposed a mandatory sentence enhancement under the circumstances when Cole was tried and convicted. The law now stipulates only that enhancement for the crime under the same conditions “may also” be applied.

In July 2017, along with co-defendant Jason Lamar White, Cole was convicted of taking part in a plot to distribute methamphetamine in a drug-free zone and sentenced to 13.5 years in prison, the additional half-year constituting the enhancement. Cole maintained her innocence throughout her trial and incarceration, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) in both her post-conviction petition and direct appeals to the courts.

Without the assistance of counsel, Cole petitioned Lee’s office for clemency, after which her name was among a total of 30 Tennesseans to whom the governor recommended expedited parole eligibility as a result of the change in the law.

On Tuesday Krugel responded to our inquiry on Cole’s status with:

After independently reviewing the hearing officer’s non-binding decision, the Board’s final decision was to grant parole to Kristina Cole with the following post-release conditions, including forensic social worker referral to assist with any transitional needs and community service work until employed. Three concurring votes were needed to reach a final decision, which finalized on April 6, 2023.

The Board reviews each case separately based on its own merits and a host of criteria, including the offender’s institutional record, nature of crime, the amount of time served, a risk/needs assessment, victim input, and the statements of the offender and support, in determining to grant parole to an eligible offender.

We then asked, “Is there a schedule for her release?” to which Krugel responded:

There is not. Generally speaking, if the Board grants an offender parole (Kristina’s decision finalized on April 3, 2023), the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), a separate state agency, goes through multiple security checks on each offender and then notifies the Board of Parole to issue the parole certificate. TDOC Is the agency that ultimately releases the offender.

Once TDOC notifies the Board of Parole that the release plan has been approved, and a certificate is appropriate, the parole certificate is issued soon after.

In 2021, The Post & Email termed White’s conviction a result of a “bait-and-switch” maneuver based on the fact that the original charges leveled against him were upgraded in his online court record from two low-level, Class “E” felonies to two “merged” Class “A” felonies without any documentation justifying the change.

Last summer, White’s post-conviction petition claims were denied by a judge who had officially retired 15 days prior to the issuance of his opinion in what The Post & Email considered a reinforcement of the “bait-and-switch” scheme.

Just prior to his retirement last year, the same judge, Robert “Bobby” Carter, Jr., declined to follow an order from an appellate court in Cole’s case to conduct a “required” “finding of fact” with “further proceedings” as to her allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel and other issues. Instead, Carter issued a “supplemental order” refuting Cole’s claims.

Update: On Tuesday evening, Krugel sent us an email stating that his invocation of “April 3” as the finalization date of Cole’s parole status in his second response was incorrect and should have said, as in his previous communication, “April 6.”

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