RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- Days before he was set to stand trial, a Manhattan teenager has taken a plea deal with the state in a high profile murder case that shocked the community.
Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson says Cole Drake, 16, pleaded no contest to lesser charges Wednesday in connection with the April 2011 murder of 14-year-old Tyler Dowling, Drake's former classmate at Manhattan High School.
Drake was charged with First Degree Murder and Aggravated Robbery in the case. The trial was scheduled to start Monday, September 24th, 2012 at the Riley County Courthouse but he has opted not to let his case be heard by a jury.
Wilkerson issued the following statement Thursday: "On Wednesday evening at 5:45 p.m., Cole Drake, through his attorneys Larry McRell and Brenda Jordan signed a plea agreement along with Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson and Assistant Riley County Attorney Wes Garrison. The Riley County Attorney’s Office filed an Amended Information, charging Cole Drake with Intentional Second Degree Murder, one count of Aggravated Robbery, 5 counts of Vehicular Burglary occurring on April 12, 2011 and one count of Vehicular Burglary occurring December 24th , 2010. Cole Drake then pled no contest to all the charges in the amended Information. Cole Drake had been charged with First Degree Murder and Aggravated Robbery. Cole Drake is 16 years old. Family members for Tyler Dowling were present as were the parents of Cole Drake when the court accepted his plea of No Contest to the charges and found him guilty. The court had previously authorized prosecution as an adult. The plea before the court was concluded at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday night."
Tyler Dowling’s body was found in a field near the 500 block of Walters Drive in Manhattan on April 13, 2011 near Eisenhower Middle School. He had been shot twice with a .22 caliber handgun.
Police say Cole Drake was the last person seen with Tyler Dowling and Drake was questioned by Riley County detectives after Dowling’s body was discovered.
Investigators say Drake admitted to shooting Dowling twice during an interview at the Riley County Police Department and told them where they could find the murder weapon.
According to police, the teens snuck out of their houses and were breaking into cars together or “car hopping” late at night on April 12, 2011 when the deadly shooting occurred.
A recorded confession Drake gave police was played in court during a hearing leading up to his trial. In the video, Drake changes his account of what happened the night Dowling was killed. He started saying that the shooting was an accident and that when Tyler was bent over tying his shoe, he (Drake) got the gun out “playing around” and not knowing the safety was off, pointed it in Dowling’s direction and yelled “Boom.” Drake said he thought it would be funny to try to scare Dowling. He said he shot Dowling once and Dowling told him he couldn’t breathe and Drake got scared and pulled the trigger a second time because he didn’t want Dowling to tell anyone what he did. Drake says he ran away, throwing Dowling’s cell phone into a nearby pond because it was ringing at the time and tossing the gun under a shed at the Manhattan Baptist Church on Tuttle Street. He also said he washed his clothes when he got home to get rid of any gunshot residue and threw his sneakers away- all because he didn’t want to go to jail. In the recorded interrogation, Drake said that he usually carried a gun when he went car hopping but that Dowling never knew he was armed because he never let anyone see the weapon.
Drake eventually told police during the interview that Tyler Dowling and another friend named Patrick Goodman had been fighting and he thought he owed it to Goodman to kill Dowling and wanted to look tough. Drake claimed he didn’t want to kill Dowling but thought that he had to because his allegiance was more with Goodman. In the recorded statement, Drake went on to say that he started walking slower across the field, behind Dowling, and pulled out the gun and shot him. As Dowling was bent over holding his head and trying to stand up and walk away, Drake says he shot him again in the side because he was scared Dowling was going to tell someone what he’d done and Drake saw no other way out of the situation.
Riley County District Court Judge David Stutzman determined that Drake's confession could be used as evidence during his trial, despite claims from the defense that he did not fully understand his rights when he was interviewed by detectives.
Drake’s sentencing is scheduled for October 29th, 2012. He was convicted as an adult, not a juvenile, and could face up to 21 years behind bars.