How a Wrongfully Convicted Inmate Killed His Way Out of Prison
Reggie “Gumby” Cole committed his first murder in the C-yard of California’s Calipatria State Prison. He was a member of the 49 Deuce Crips, had a prison tattoo that read “Ghetto Star” on his shoulders, and another of “92 DEUCE” in block letters across his stomach. “Everybody knew that if you fuck with Gumby, he will stab you,” Cole says, but he was typically not a brawler. He had maintained his innocence since first being charged with homicide at the age of 18, and spent much of his time in the law library researching his case. In a place known as Kill-a-patria, where violence is power, Cole was the rare inmate who proudly claimed not to be a killer.
That is, before he became the target of Eddie Clark, aka “Devil,” a Crip from South Central who had spent half of his life behind bars — first as a juvenile for beating another teenager to death, then for sexually assaulting an elderly woman and shooting her son during a robbery as an adult. To be marked by the Devil was to be marked for either death or sexual servitude. Cole seemed to be facing both. After he refused to follow a gang order, the Devil had stabbed Cole twice and then promised that Cole would be his bitch. That left Cole with four options: submit, snitch, kill or be killed.
In the C-yard, inmates get patted downs before returning to their cells. It was not uncommon for guards to find a weapon hidden in the sole of a shoe or tucked into a waistband, if not someplace more obscure. According to the official report, a guard placed his hands on Devil’s hulking 200-pound frame. The Devil extended his arms outward for inspection, revealing a tattoo of a hand gripping a sword on his right forearm (he also had a tattoo of his own self-portrait in the act of slitting a man’s throat on his right ribcage). Cole watched a few feet away, clutching a six-inch shiv fashioned from a shard of metal and a melted potato chip bag.
As the guard bent over to pat Devil’s legs, Cole leapt forward and stabbed the Devil in the neck. The blade punctured Devil’s voice box. Blood spurted into the air, and the guard — who had never seen a prison murder before — pulled his pepper spray out of its holster. “Get down!” he yelled. All the men in the yard sat on the ground. Cole lay on his belly. “I already know what I did,” he told the guards. Devil staggered onto a patch of grass, helplessly pressing his hand against a gushing one-inch wound. “My first thought was like, ‘I gotta go help him,’ Cole says. “It was very terrifying. I’d never seen someone bleed to death. He was looking at me the whole time.” By the time a doctor attended to him thirty minutes later, the Devil was dead.
Cole was serving life without parole for the 1994 murder of Felipe Gonzalez Angeles. Now, he faced the death penalty for killing the Devil. His trial, held in Imperial County, should have been a swift affair — there was little to dispute his guilt. But as the case wore on, Cole’s lawyer became increasingly convinced that his client had been wrongfully convicted in the first instance — there was no physical evidence linking Cole to the crime and serious concerns that the police investigation had been flawed from the start. But that only raised more troubling questions for his case: If the state had falsely imprisoned Cole, was he now accountable for the violence that resulted from the error?