Jailhouse lawyer skirts possible life sentence

Facing the possibility of life in prison without parole, Gerald Cole Jr. decided to be his own attorney.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson told Cole on Friday that his initial thoughts were: “What kind of suicide mission are you on?”

But Cole proved himself to be in the upper-echelon of jailhouse lawyers.

“I don’t want this to go to your head, but the pleadings were pretty well researched,” Cuthbertson said. “Pretty well written.”

Prosecutors had accused Cole of crashing his car Jan. 12, 2016, in Tacoma, trying to flee, struggling with police and pulling a gun.

Under the state’s “three-strikes” law, a conviction on any one of the several assault charges in the case would have sent Cole to prison for life without parole.

But by the end of court Friday, Cole was looking to be out of custody in months instead of years.

He was sentenced for having a suspended license during the crash, and for a separate time that he had methamphetamine on him.

In total, Cuthbertson gave Cole about 18 months. He has spent 17 months behind bars since his arrest, and the state Department of Corrections will determine how much of that will count toward his sentence.

As his case played out, Cole first persuaded a jury to find him not guilty in April of second-degree assault, two counts of third-degree assault and attempting to disarm an officer.

His court-appointed attorney, David Shaw, was on standby to help Cole as needed.

Then, on Friday, Cuthbertson granted Cole’s motion (handwritten from jail) that the judge overturn the jury’s guilty verdict on a gun possession charge in the case.

It was the only time Cuthbertson has granted such a motion in his 16 years on the bench.

“This is such a waste,” the judge said he thought of Cole during the trial. “He could have gone to law school. He could have been a paralegal, at least.”

Instead, Cole racked up an extensive criminal history that the judge rattled off at sentencing.

“Let me try to maintain my demeanor,” Cuthbertson said, before reading off Cole’s prior crimes, which included robbery, assault, hit and run, vehicular assault and others.

“You just can’t control yourself for a second when you’re out there,” the judge said. “... I don’t know what to do with you, man.”

One he’s free from custody, Cole said, his focus will be his children, ages 8 months and 4 years. College could be next, he said, to learn how to start his own business.

He told the News Tribune, he’d consider a career in law and he told the judge he was serious about changing his life.

“I definitely don’t want to come back and see you,” he said.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell