Many who visit our site will have heard of Miller v Alabama, a landmark decision regarding JLWOP. The Supreme Court ruled that mandatory LWOP sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional and that a judge must consider mitigating factors before imposing LWOP on a juvenile. Many readers may be familiar with the criminal case behind the ruling. Unfortunately, much of what is said about this case is not accurate.
Evan Miller, 14, and his friend Colby Smith, 16, brutally beat Cole Cannon with a baseball bat before setting his trailer on fire. Cole, who was still alive when the fire was set, died of blunt force trauma and smoke inhalation. The barbarity of this crime is minimized by anti-JLWOP activists, especially the Equal Justice Initiative. The EJI has also gone so far as to blame Cole for his death.
Miller and Smith beat Cole with a baseball bat and set his house on fire, leaving him to die of smoke inhalation and the blunt force trauma their beating gave him. During the crime, Miller placed a shirt over Cole’s head and said “Cole, I am God and I come to take your life.” Miller later bragged about the crime.
Anti-JLWOP activists, particularly the EJI, have shamelessly slandered Cole and minimized his murder to promote their agenda. In their amicus brief, the EJI cites what Miller told them about the crime rather than the facts proven at trial. As Cole’s daughter writes in our memorial for him: “They slant to make it sound as if my father initiated things by ‘interrupting Evan, his family and friend’ ‘being visibly intoxicated’ ‘making a drug deal with Evan’s mother,’ ‘ accompanying the boys to his home and drinking with them.'” From pages 6-7 of their brief:
“In this environment, late at night on July 15, 2003, Evan’s 52-year-old neighbor, Cole Cannon, interrupted Evan, his family, and his friend Colby Smith as they prepared to go to bed. J.A. 132; R. 710. Evan was then 14 years old; Colby Smith was 16. R. 1022. Mr. Cannon, who was visibly intoxicated (J.A. 132), made a drug deal with Evan’s mother within earshot of the two boys. R. 1004. Later, when Mr. Cannon returned to his own home, the two boys
accompanied him. Mr. Cannon gave them alcohol and asked the boys to go buy some marijuana with money that he provided. R. 710, 1008, 1012. The three of them smoked the marijuana and played drinking games. J.A. 132-33. Evan was highly intoxicated after consuming almost a fifth of whiskey and two Klonopin pills in addition to the marijuana. J.A.
45, 138. Colby Smith testified at Evan’s trial that the boys planned to steal Mr. Cannon’s wallet. “
Where did they get the idea that Cole was drunk and dealing drugs? Neither Miller nor his mother are credible. EJI’s founder Bryan Stevenson also writes on page 265 of his book, Just Mercy, that Cole did drugs and played drinking games with Smith and Miller.
The EJI also blames the victim by claiming Cole initiated the violence.
From page 7 of the EJI’s brief. “At some point while the boys were at Mr. Cannon’s home, an altercation began. The cause of the altercation was disputed, but both boys agreed that Mr. Cannon initiated the physical aggression by grabbing Evan’s throat. J.A. 133; R. 710-11, 984. Colby Smith admitted at trial that he reacted by beating Mr. Cannon in the head with a baseball bat.”
On page 265 of Just Mercy Stevenson writes that Cole grabbed Evan after they tried to steal his wallet. He then writes that “the older boy responded by hitting the man in the head with a bat. Both boys started beating him and then set his trailer on fire.” He declined to mention the “I am God” quote.
The EJI’s brief minimized Cole’s painful death by simply saying that “Mr Cannon died of smoke inhalation”(page 7). They decline to mention that the blunt force trauma he sustained during Miller and Smith’s beating was also a cause of death.
Research by NOVJM.