by Kristina Cole, ©2023
May 19, 2023
My name is Kristina Cole and I am a 49-year-old black single mother of now three grown children. Seven years ago at 42 years of age, I was arrested and later convicted of two counts of Conspiracy – Unlawful Possession of Methamphetamine in a Drug Free Zone and two counts of Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Sell in a Drug Free Zone … and sentenced to 13.5 years at 100%. I was recently granted clemency through Governor Bill Lee under the newly-passed Drug Free School Zone Act, making me eligible for immediate parole. I lost almost six years of my life to a system I believed in….a system which ultimately both disappointed and later condemned me….a system in which “innocent until proven guilty” was not the code.
On Feb. 3, 2016, a controlled delivery was initiated on my residence of 2552 Jenwood St., Bartlett, TN 38134 by a Detective Mark Gaia and several other officers of the Bartlett Police Department. My doorbell was rung, a package containing one pound of meth was placed on the porch, and the officer left before I could get to the door. I picked up the package and brought the box within the entryway of my home, placing it on the floor next to the door. I went to finish cooking and about 15 minutes later, Detective Gaia rang the doorbell with the other officers, announcing he was there because of the unopened package at my feet.
Having no reason to suspect anything wrong, I allowed the officers entry into my home, access to my computer, even leaving Detective Gaia in my office with the computer while I went back to my kitchen to finish cooking dinner. About ten minutes later, I was called into my office by Detective Gaia and arrested because the tracking number for the FedEx package was “found” on my computer. I was handcuffed, my then 25-year-old daughter was handcuffed, and my then 12-year-old son was handcuffed as well. One of the officers retrieved a picture of my boyfriend, Jason White, who was incarcerated, and asked for his identity. Although I found it odd at the time wondering why they were questioning a personal picture on my bedside table, I did not lie but told them it was my boyfriend, “Jason White.” From that point on it seemed the atmosphere in my house changed. Detective Gaia retrieved my phone and searched through my texts, even sending texts to the last person I spoke to assuming, I suppose, that was who the package was either from or going to.
Detective Gaia answered my phone at one point and put it to my ear saying that I was going to help him find out where the package was going. I requested a lawyer at that time. When it rang again, he answered and conducted a 3+-minute conversation, talking sarcastically and jeeringly to the caller. My office was “tossed” as well as my bedroom. My son was paraded in front of me in tears while Detective Gaia “taunted” me, saying look what I was doing to my kids….smh.. This was literally the worst nightmare I ever could have had. Never would I have imagined I would be treated in such a way by a government official who was supposed to be protecting me. My son was only 12 years old!
After several hours of the officers searching my home, I was transported first to the Bartlett Police Department and later to Shelby County Jail East Women’s Facility in Memphis, where I spent nine days before being able to bond out.
During my initial stay at the Shelby County Jail East Women’s Facility an attorney was hired to represent me. I learned that an associate of my boyfriend by the name of Montez Mullins had admitted to my attorney that he was responsible for the package being sent to my home and that unknown to me the package contained drugs. Mullins was willing to sign an affidavit attesting to this fact. My attorney was confident that I would probably get probation since I had never been in any trouble before and because Mullins was admitting guilt. However, that attitude changed quickly as it seemed my meetings with my him became less about my innocence and more about my association with my boyfriend, Jason White, and his associates who were incarcerated as well.
I’d never been a judgmental person and was always raised to give people the benefit of the doubt. I never held a person’s past against them but judged them on how they treated me in the present. Over the years I had been in contact with many who were incarcerated as my boyfriend, Jason White, had been near or around them. I helped family members of several incarcerated individuals with ordering packages for their loved ones, putting money in their loved ones’ trust fund for them, and basically aiding them when the family members didn’t know how. Unfortunately, it seemed my gestures of assistance became a weapon against me, stigmatizing my behavior as nefarious because I deemed to associate with “criminals.”
For the next year and a half, I went through the most traumatic experiences of my life. I later learned that my boyfriend, Jason White, had been added to my indictment as co-defendant and Montez Mullins, who was brought in by the attorneys as a defense witness, was later added as a co-defendant without any objections from the attorneys.
It became clear in my mind that the attorneys were working against me and not for me. I released my first attorney and hired another who seemed more compelled to assist me. What followed over the next several months seemed to be a repeat of my first experience. Instead of proving my innocence, it seemed as if my whole case became more of a “witch-hunt” aimed at my boyfriend, Jason White. I was even told that it was not me “they” wanted, but Jason. After spending months attempting to stay in contact with my attorney and pushing for certain motions to be filed, I accepted that once again I had no one to truly fight for “me.” My case had become more aimed at convicting Jason and unfortunately, I was now along for the ride! I was constantly encouraged to testify against Jason even though he had no knowledge of the package. Mullins had continuously attested to the fact that Jason didn’t know what he had planned and that I was unaware of the contents of the package. None of this seemed to matter, however, and I ultimately released my second attorney shortly before I was to go to trial. I reported both my first and second attorneys to the Board of Professional Responsibility not out of malice but because neither of their conducts seemed in my best interest.
By this time, my family and I had been evicted from our home due to my charges. I literally woke up one morning to bamming on my front door only to open it to an individual with a clipboard and three other parties. I was told I would have to vacate the premises because of the “huge drug bust” that had occurred, and they immediately bagged my belongings in trash bags, placing them and my home furnishings on my front curb. I was given no written notification and no time to do anything but stand in disbelief while my home was emptied. So, not only did I have my accused crime to deal with, but my children and I were now homeless. We ended up moving into my mother’s one-bedroom apartment in a different city.
As a last resort for my legal woes, I hired my final attorney outside of Memphis because it seemed those in Shelby County were collectively the same and did not have my best interest at heart. Only weeks later, on July 14, 2017, I was found guilty and transported back to Jail East where I was later sentenced to 13.5 years at 100% to TDOC. I stayed for three months at Jail East until TDOC transported me to Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville on November 8, 2017 for classification for two weeks and later to WTRC in Henning, TN. After appeals and post-conviction briefs that proved futile over the ensuing years, I garnered clemency from Gov. Lee for immediate parole eligibility due to the new Drug Free School Zone Act and was paroled on April 25, 2023.
I am now free but not “free” because I’m still fighting. I’m no longer in prison, but I have to start over with everything. I’ve missed almost six years of living with my family. I’ve missed milestones in my children’s lives that I will never get back. My kids and mom have been as traumatized by my incarceration as I have. What Jason has endured has been even worse. He’s been fighting our case from day one and refuses to remain quiet about the injustice that’s been done to us. I was given 13.5 years at 100% and he had 60 years at 100% added to his time when he should have been home in 2018. I’ve wanted to speak out many times about this injustice to both of us but feared what would happen to me if I did. Jason was never quiet and they shipped him to New Mexico! I was already away from my family and we feared what would happen to me if I “stirred the pot,” so I remained quiet. Well, I’m no longer incarcerated and fearful of repercussions to my First Amendment right! I want to add my voice and raise awareness of our case just as Jason has. This injustice needs to stop! I naively believed that the system was fair but it’s not always. Sometimes it’s just broken because those in power abuse their authority for their own personal gain. I never would have thought this would be the case until it happened to me!
I have developed proof that the package was not sent by FedEx by the alleged suspect but rather, shipped from California by Detective Adam Collins via UPS in care of Detective Mark Gaia of the Bartlett Police Department. I also have proof that the alleged FedEx package was never addressed to me or had my street name as Jenwood but instead was addressed to Bailey Green at 2552 Linwood. This did not stop Detective Gaia from lying in the affidavit to have the package taken to my residence. Also, how can it be a crime in Tennessee when the package was never delivered past the state line but was sent via UPS to Detective Mark Gaia from Detective Adam Collins in California? I also have documented proof that corroborates the fact that I never sent texts from my cell phone as my arrest record shows I was in custody at 15:30 (3:30) when the actual text messages were not sent until 15:38 and 15:39 and the third text message at 16:27, which during trial Det. Gaia was forced to admit he had sent. He also lied about the other two text messages as well as having a three-minute conversation with Montez Mullins who later admitted to talking to Detective Mark Gaia during the search.
I have also recently obtained actual transcripts of Chris Scruggs, the prosecutor on my case, and the presiding judge, Robert Bobby Carter, Jr., having what they call an ex parte conversation that took place without my presence or that of my attorney showing a conspiratorial action to further a conviction when the judicial process is supposed to remain neutral and unbiased. One would question how I was found guilty when the very judge who presided over the trial clearly had a prejudgment of my guilt long before I was brought into his courtroom and it was only through this ex parte conversation that he became presiding judge. This can be proven by my arraignment transcripts when Judge Carter stated my case was not on his docket and prosecutor Chris Scruggs had to remind Carter of their ex parte communication.
Not only was I a victim at the hands of Montez Mullins, who deceived me. but I also became a victim of the judicial process when as an upstanding citizen who had never been in trouble, each of my attorneys failed to protect my constitutional rights. Here I stand before you as an innocent and strong black woman willing to fight the corruption and injustice of our system, and I encourage any and all of you to stand and fight with me!
I would like to give thanks to those who have already supported me and personally to Sharon Rondeau, David Tulis, Nolan Fergus, Towanna Murphy, Leonna Abraham Brandao, Pamela Moses, and all others whose names are not mentioned.
Footnote – It is very strange that most of the officials who played a part in my prosecution are no longer in office. Detective Mark Gaia now works for FedEx, the very company from which the package supposedly originated in California. As of August 1, 2022, Judge Carter retired. Chris Scruggs is no longer with the DA office in Shelby County.
Glad she’s home this sounds way too familiar. Same thing happened to me, smh
This article has truly touched heart! I never met Kristina but while running for the Governor of the State of Tennessee, I was honored to have Ms. Kimberly White as a guest on my show which I learned about this tragedy and miscarriage of justice. I ran for Governor because I have also experienced tremendous miscarriage of justice in the judicial court in Shelby County. I suffered grave corruption between the judge and attorneys. I am grateful and honored that Kristina has came out being an agent of change to speak truth to power! Sadly, this woman and mother has lost invaluable time from her family and she has been a victim of corrupt judicial misconduct. My prayers today is for Jason to be released regarding this insidious cover- up and abuse of power. Power to the people and may justice prevail. I am running for the President of the United States in 2024 and they better hope I do not win. Peace and blessings Kristina, the real Superhero!