Cole Drake sentenced in 2011 murder of fellow student Tyler Dowling

By Katherine Wartell

A district judge has sentenced the 16-year-old former Manhattan High School student convicted of murdering classmate Tyler Dowling in April 2011 to 260 months in prison.

Cole Drake was sentenced by Judge David Stutzman to 165 months for the intentional second-degree murder of Dowling, as well as 59 months for aggravated robbery and 6 months each for six counts of vehicular burglary to be served consecutively with the Kansas Department of Corrections. The sentences were handed down Monday afternoon in Riley County District Court. The sentence amounts to roughly 21.6 years in prison, the maximum sentence sought by the prosecution.

Drake was originally charged with pre-meditated first-degree murder, but those charges were amended after he signed a plea agreement in September. Drake pleaded no contest to the charges for which he was sentenced.

In addition to the intentional second-degree murder conviction, Drake was convicted of aggravated robbery for taking Dowling’s cell phone after he shot him twice and of six counts of vehicular burglary, stemming from incidents that occurred on April 12, 2011, and Dec. 24, 2010, in which Drake burglarized parked vehicles.

Although 14 at the time of the murder, Drake was convicted as an adult. In a taped interview with Riley County detectives conducted on April 14, 2011, a day after Dowling’s body was found, Drake confessed to shooting Dowling, 14, once in the back of his skull and then once again, fatally, in his back, in a field near Eisenhower Middle School.

In the confession, which Drake’s defense attempted to suppress, he told detectives that he shot Dowling in order to impress another friend to whom, he said, he had more allegiance.

In court Monday, spectators were made to pass through a metal detector before entering the courtroom, where cell phones and recording devices were not allowed.

Attorneys on both sides gave short statements before Dowling’s mother and Cole Drake addressed the court.

Angie Dowling Burnett, Tyler Dowling’s mother, directed her statements at Drake, expressing her family’s grief and anger. She called Drake a “selfish coward,” who by pleading no contest had effectively pleaded guilty without having the guts to say, “I’m guilty as charged.”

She also brought several mementos of her son to share with the court, including a bag filled with medals Dowling had received in middle school, where he participated in track, football and basketball. She said her son wanted to get a college degree from the University of Oklahoma or Kansas State University.

Drake read the court a letter he had written to Dowling. He said he did not deserve to have Dowling as a friend and that Dowling was better than him. 

Drake ended his letter by stating, “God bless your soul and rest in peace.”

Defense attorney Larry McRell said “the steps of prison are going to look awful tall for Cole Drake.”

He said Drake is going to be a child among adults and is going to have to learn how to survive. But McRell said that he believes Drake can reform.

In a statement to the media, McRell said he hopes the future will bring some healing.

Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson characterized the crime as shocking to the community, adding that Drake is the youngest person he has prosecuted for murder since he started working at the County Attorney’s office. But he said he was pleased with the sentence the judge handed down.

He said that the state offered a plea deal because both sides would have been taking a risk by going to trial, including the risk for the prosecution that Drake’s certification as an adult could have been appealed.

If he were tried as a juvenile, Drake would have faced six to seven years under juvenile jurisdiction.

Wilkerson said because Drake’s sentence was agreed upon by both sides, it would be nearly impossible to appeal.

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