After nearly 28 years in prison, a convicted murderer from Catoosa County has been granted parole despite pleas from the victim’s family to keep him locked up.
Almost 28 years to the day after 27-year-old Ringgold High School graduate Benjamin West was murdered, his killer is preparing to once again join society.
Bob Jay Cole, who will turn 45 in November, was a 16-year-old kid when he lured West to a secluded area, robbed him, and then fatally shot him in the back of the head.
The two had worked together at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Ringgold. West was the store’s manager and Cole was a team member.
Catoosa County authorities suspected foul play shortly after West failed to show up to work one day in August 1990. After a three-day search, police located West’s decomposing body in a chert pit off Battlefield Parkway near I-75.
Cole eventually pleaded guilty to the crimes and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
After being denied parole multiple times over the past 20-plus years, the state Board of Pardons & Paroles in Atlanta announced in December 2017 that it was tentatively granting Cole a conditional parole.
After West’s family was notified of the board’s decision, his sister, Ellen Hogan, began pleading with officials to reconsider their decision.
“Every time this inmate comes up for parole, I feel as if I am re-victimized all over again,” Hogan wrote in a January letter to the board. “I am so fearful that by your releasing him that he may reoffend and put another family through what me and mine still suffer through today. Honestly, I feel that man should never walk this earth as a free man again, but who am I…just the dead guy’s little sister.”
Although a date hasn’t been set for Cole’s release, the parole is slated to include stern monitoring and supervision by the state.
Cole will be placed on voice recognition monitoring and is to have no contact with West’s family.
With Cole’s release date looming, Hogan says she feels like she has to be her brother’s voice. She was 12 years old when West’s life was taken.
“I just feel like murder isn’t something you should be able to walk away from,” Hogan said. “A life sentence should be that — a life sentence.”
Monday, Aug. 13, will be the 28th anniversary of West’s death, and in an irony Hogan has to live with, both West and Cole share the same birthday of Nov. 14.
“They share a birthday, and it’s hard,” Hogan said. “Cole is still young enough to find a dumb girl to fall in love with him, he can have kids, and then go shoot and kill someone else.”