North Carolina man imprisoned for nearly 49 years is granted parole

20 January 2023

GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Sometime on Monday, Benny L. Cole will do something he hasn’t done in nearly half a century: He will walk out of prison a free man.

Cole, 69, has been in prison since March 20, 1974, when he was sentenced to life behind bars after being convicted in Davidson County Superior Court as an accessory before the fact of first-degree rape and a crime against nature.

Former Greensboro police officer charged with child sex crimes

Benny L. Cole (NC DPS)

Cole is the most recent inmate approved for parole by the North Carolina Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission since North Carolina abolished parole in cases involving murder and rape as of Oct. 1, 1994.

The commission is charged with considering the parole of offenders who were sentenced under guidelines before that date.

Cole, currently housed at the Orange Correctional Center in Hillsborough, will be freed after a roughly 3-year process through the commission’s Mutual Agreement Parole Program, a scholastic and vocational program that is a three-way agreement among the commission, the Division of Prisons and the offender.

That path out of custody began when the public was notified that Cole was being considered for parole in March 2020, which is a customary first step that doesn’t always lead to freedom.

“Mr. Cole was under MAPP Investigation in February 2020 and approved for MAPP on 6-25-20,” Leigh Kent, the lead parole case analyst for the commission, wrote in an email response to a question from WGHP. “He has satisfied the terms of his MAPP and has now been approved for parole. He is scheduled to be released 1-23-23.” 

The state has released or is considering the release of dozens of people from across the Piedmont Triad, but few – if any – have spent as many years behind bars as Cole.

He was convicted for an offense that occurred on Nov. 3, 1973 – when he was 20 years old – and sentenced to life on the rape accessory charge and a 10-year concurrent sentence for the crime against nature.

About the charges

Multiple computer searches provide no details about the crimes with which Cole was charged and why an accessory role may have merited such a significant sentence.

Law books describe “an accessory before-the-fact” as a person who aids, abets, or encourages another to commit a crime but who is not present at the scene.” An accessory may have “counseled, commanded, or encouraged the perpetrator” but an accessory before the fact “is considered an accomplice.”

In some states, an accessory can be charged without the principal being present.

“An accessory before the fact, the defendant is subject to the punishment provided for in the principal crime,” an analysis by the law firm Altman/Altman offered. “This means that the punishment provided varies greatly depending on the crime that the defendant counseled the principal to commit.”

A crime against nature can mean many things, including sexual offenses that are deemed “unnatural” or “contrary to the order of nature.”

In North Carolina, a crime against nature is defined as “a crime between men or with beasts. The law is generally referring to acts of bestiality, sodomy, and buggery, but it also extends to sex acts that involve minors and even prostitution.”

The MAPP program

The state’s release says that MAPP, under which Spivey and Gilbert are being released, is a “scholastic and vocational program” that is a 3-way agreement among the commission, the Division of Prisons and the offender.

To be part of the MAPP program, an inmate must show a desire to improve education and training programs and a self-improvement process. There is a 3-year walk-up to release that, the MAPP website states, requires the inmate:

To be in medium or minimum custody.

Not to be subject to a detainer or pending court action that could result in further confinement.

To be infraction-free for a period of 90 days before being recommended.

If sentenced under the Fair Sentencing Act, to be eligible for 270-day parole or community-service parole.

Cole had only six infractions in his 49-plus years behind bars, none since 2008 – the last was for unauthorized use of tobacco – and only two since 1979 (none major).

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