As reported in the Jackson Sun, Melissa Cole, 41, is on trial for first-degree murder for shooting her husband, Gary Cole, in the head and then setting their home on fire on November 2.
Along with the murder charge Cole also faces charges of arson and two counts of tampering with evidence. The trial is taking place in McNairy County Circuit Court.
The prosecution told jurors that Cole had premeditated the murder and then set the fire to cover up the evidence. The defense countered by saying that Cole was a victim of abuse and had been beaten and threatened by her husband.
The lawyers trying the case chose a jury of 10 women and four men that will have to decide not whether or not Case killed her husband, but whether her actions can be found justifiable.
Assistant District Attorney Bob Gray told jurors that at approximately 7:30 a.m. on November 2 Melissa Cole used a 9mm pistol to shoot her husband in the back of his head while he lay resting on the couple's loveseat. After the shooting, Cole then poured a flammable liquid throughout their home and set it on fire.
Gray continued to say that the Coles were in the process of divorcing due to friction in their marriage. Gary Cole had filed in August 2009. Melissa Cole had signed the divorce papers and given custody of the couple's then-9-year-old son to Gary. The murder occurred before the divorce had been finalized.
Assistant Public Defender Rickey Griggs, for Melissa Cole, said that his client - while not denying that she murdered her husband - contends that she only committed the crime as she was desperate and felt she had nowhere to turn for help.
Griggs said that Gary Cole kept absolute control over his wife via beatings and threats. Though Gary Cole did file for the divorce he continued to threaten Melissa, and her family, if she left him.
Per Griggs, Melissa Cole had sought help from Wo/Men's Resource & Rape Assistance Program, and also gotten an order of protection against her husband, but the threats continued.
The same morning that Cheryl Cole shot Gary Cole, he had used the same gun, and while pointing it directly at her, had threatened her once again.
Griggs asked jurors, "She had nothing to gain by him dying. She thought she didn't have any other avenue. What else was she to do?"
Melissa Cole cried during Griggs speech but showed little emotion when investigators showed her photographs of both her husband and home after the fire.
Johnny Hayes, an agent with the Tennessee Bomb and Arson Division, testified at what he discovered when he arrived at the couple's home. He found a kerosene heater, several lamps, and one lamp under the loveseat. He also traced the flammable liquid from the kitchen through the breakfast area and living room. It was clear to Hayes that the fire did not start from the heater or the lamps.
Hayes stated during his cross-examination that, "The lamps were in places they shouldn't have been - it's not normal to have a kerosene lamp under the sofa. The fire was set intentionally."
The couple's son is expected to testify next.
If you are facing serious criminal charges, whether you are claiming an abuse defense or not, contact a criminal attorney to help you with your case.