Gregory Cole stood in the courtroom hallway as a one-man reception line. One by one, they walked into his hugs – a graying woman, a grayer man, a younger man in a dark suit with a single tear falling from his left eye.
They were the family of the killer who had stabbed Cole’s son 74 times during a drug-crazed murder frenzy two years ago – middle class, professional-looking people just like himself, and just as utterly devastated.
Cole had gathered in court Monday with family and friends of his son, Michael Allen Cole, 26, who survived an explosion from a 2006 roadside bomb in Iraq that killed three of his fellow Marines and nearly him, too, but instead left his body broken and his psyche shattered.
Mike Cole barely made it out alive. He fought through an excruciating recovery to regain an ability to live on his own. Then the life that he had regained was taken from him around 6 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2012, by Nicholas Jeffrey Mangelli, 23.
“To realize he’d been killed after everything he’d gone through, to learn the details of how and why, it was so difficult to wrap my whole being around it,” Gregory Cole said in the video that was played in Sacramento Superior Court.
Judge Michael A. Savage on Monday sentenced Mangelli to life in prison with no chance of parole after the defendant’s Jan. 13 guilty plea to murder during the course of a residential robbery of his friend. Mangelli told detectives he killed Cole to steal his vintage video games and consoles and sell them for money to buy more drugs.
Gregory Cole in the video called his son “a multimillion-dollar man” who had “more than a million worth of repairs” to put him back together after the explosion in a distant land. Michael Cole emerged from his coma, fought through painful physical therapy sessions in Palo Alto and then joined a new Marine unit in the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Pendleton. He’d been visited during his recovery by Cher and Tom Selleck. He was discharged with honors and afforded a disability retirement that paid for his new house in Citrus Heights.
“To have someone see him for just his stuff, I can’t put into words,” Gregory Cole said. “It’s very difficult for me to move on from this.”
The best doctors in the world saved Michael Cole’s life, but they couldn’t put a full-length plastic encasement around his post-traumatic stress disorder. Michael Cole took care of that himself, his mother said, with alcohol. The drinking became another problem of war, but he attacked it through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. And it was through AA that he met another man with a substance abuse problem – Nicholas Jeffrey Mangelli.
Mary Cole clutched a rosary when she addressed the court Monday. She told a story of how her son told her about this friend he met through AA.
“Of all his friends, Mike was really concerned for you,” Mary Cole told Mangelli. “He cared a lot for you. Mike trusted and believed in you.”
Like his family members who declined to comment outside the courtroom, Mangelli said nothing inside it on Monday. He told detectives after he killed Cole that he did it for drug money. He told them he’d been planning the killing for three hours or so before he knocked on Mike Cole’s door at 2:00 in the morning. He told them that he and Cole drank beer and then went to the store at 6 a.m. for more before they returned to Cole’s house on Westbrook Drive. He told them how he launched a sneak attack on Mike with “a small little blade” from the dead man’s collection of knives and swords.
“I can’t get over the tragedy of a Marine who survived this explosive attack by enemy combatants on a foreign battlefield but couldn’t survive a brutal attack by a friend in the sanctity of his own home,” Deputy District Attorney Robin Shakely said in an interview after the sentencing.
Mike Cole’s grandmother, Irma Cole, blamed drugs for the murder, and there were plenty of them to blame, according to Mangelli’s probation report. It said that when Mangelli killed Cole, he was under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, heroin, Ecstasy and methamphetamine.
“I’m hoping young people who hear about his case will decide not to make that first mistake,” Irma Cole said.
Cole’s grandmother thanked Mangelli for entering his guilty plea to the special-circumstance murder charge, straight up, sparing both of their families “from an awful trial.”
“I hope it will give him some measure of comfort in his long confinement,” Irma Cole said. “I want Nick to know that I forgive him.”
Mangelli wrote letters to the Cole family and to his own before entering his guilty plea last month. To the loved ones of the man he killed, Mangelli wrote, “I deserve to be punished for my crimes. Your son is the most helpful person that I know.” He said that Mike Cole “fought for freedom and courage, something I know nothing about.”
To his own family, Mangelli said, “I always wondered what it would be like to have to rely on myself. I know prison will teach me that whether I like it or not.”
“Killing someone makes you doubt if you’re a good person,” he added.
Mangelli gazed in the direction of the judge and stood in the cage off to the side of the courtroom, with his orange trousers rolled up to the middle of his calves. He stood at times with one foot crossed over the other.
Defense attorney David W. Dratman thanked the Cole family for “the grace and kindness I’ve seen here today.”
“Not only is Nick sorry, but his family is sorry,” Dratman said. “They suffer for you and with you. They suffer on their own for what is going to happen to Nick.”
One by one, in the courtroom hallway, they hugged the father of the man their loved one murdered.