North Alabama family fights to keep their father's killers behind bars during pandemic

One of Cole Cannon's killers will come up for parole on September 16th.

Posted: Sep 1, 2020 4:20 PM
Updated: Sep 1, 2020 10:28 PM

A North Alabama family whose father was murdered is frustrated they can't speak out as one of the men who killed him is up for parole.

The family of Cole Cannon spoke with WAAY 31 about his 2003 murder and how they're fighting to keep his killers behind bars during the coronavirus pandemic.

Right now with the pandemic no victims or inmates' families can physically go before the parole board, instead they must write letters. Cole Cannon's family said they feel the letters won't convey how they truly feel.

"There's a difference between verbalizing and someone seeing you and being able to explain to them in person who your dad is," said Candy Cheatham, one of Cole Cannon's daughters.

"He's not here because he was murdered, and explaining how you feel and what you keep feeling in person versus writing it down there is just a different impact."

Cheatham and her siblings gathered around their father's grave in Decatur. They replaced his graveside flowers with some new ones dedicated to his favorite football team, the Alabama Crimson Tide. They wiped away his headstone, too. It's not a site any of Cannon's three kids thought they'd be.

Cole was murdered inside is Lawrence County home in 2003. Two 14-year-olds, Evan Miller and Colby Smith, were both found guilty in the beating and subsequent arson of Cannon and his home.

In 2006, Miller got life without the possibility of parole and Smith got life with the possibility of parole. In the state of Alabama if you serve 15 years on a life sentence you become eligible for parole.

Smith will have a parole hearing on Sept. 16. It's painful for Cheatham, her siblings, and her children - Cannon's grandchildren who ask a lot more questions as time goes on.

"They ask questions and the older they get. We've tried to shield them from the horrific details but we've had to add as they get older a little bit more because eventually and unfortunately that's going to be a legacy that we may have to pass on, not one that we want to, but one that we will be forced to that they may have to continue this fight to keep my dads killers locked up," said Cheatham.

Normally, victims' families would go into the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles room and stand before the board and speak on why a person should stay in prison. 

"I wish they would consider other alternatives. That room is big enough to social distance. Maybe limit the number of people being there, even do it virtually So our only option at this time, ours and other victims, is to submit written letters," said Cheatham.

WAAY 31 asked the parole board why it can't do Zoom or other virtual hearings. A spokesperson for the board said there are many parts of rural Alabama that don't have enough internet connection to do a virtual hearing, but everyone can send letters.

The board also said, "By submitting written statements, the families, law enforcement officials and the crime victims guarantee that their voices are heard at a time when the pandemic makes it too dangerous to hold in-person hearings."

Cheatham just wants justice for her father, and shared this message for the board when it comes to Smith's upcoming parole hearing.

"That's our plea is to deny him the chance to be released, the chance for parole. Keep him where he's at, which is where he should be for the sake of justice for us and the community at large," said Cheatham.

Even if Smith is denied parole he will eligible again within the next five years at the latest.

In 2012, Miller's case went to the U.S. Supreme Court and the court ruled that judges must have more options when sentencing juveniles found guilty of capital murder.

In 2017, Miller had a re-sentencing hearing.

The Lawrence County Judge who heard the case still hasn't ruled if Miller will get life without parole or life with parole.

Another fight the family of Cole Cannon says it is prepared for.

You can click here to find out how to send letters to the parole board. 

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