The 3rd Execution of 2019
Billie Wayne Coble received lethal injection at the Texas penitentiary in Huntsville for the August 1989 shooting deaths of Robert and Zelda Vicha and their son, Bobby Vicha, at separate homes in Axtell, northeast of Waco, reported the Houston Chronicle.
Coble, 70, once described by a prosecutor as having "a heart full of scorpions," was the oldest inmate executed by Texas since the state resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982.
Asked to make a final statement, Coble replied: "That'll be $5."
He told the five witnesses he selected to be in attendance that he loved them, then again said: "That'll be $5." Coble nodded to the witnesses and added, "take care."
He gasped several times and began snoring.
As Coble was finishing his statement, his son, a friend and a daughter-in-law became emotional and violent. They were yelling obscenities, throwing fists and kicking at others in the death chamber witness area.
Officers stepped in and the witnesses continued to resist. They were eventually moved to a courtyard and the two men were handcuffed.
"Why are you doing this?" the woman asked. "They just killed his daddy."
While the witnesses were being subdued outside, the single dose of pentobarbital was being administered to Coble. He was pronounced dead 11 minutes later at 6:24 p.m.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jeremy Desel said the two men were arrested on a charge of resisting arrest and taken to the Walker County Jail.
The U.S. Supreme Court earlier Thursday turned down Coble's request to delay his execution.
His attorneys had told the high court that Coble's original trial lawyers were negligent for conceding his guilt by failing to present an insanity defense before a jury convicted him of capital murder.
A state appeals court had previously rejected Coble's request to delay Thursday's execution and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles turned down his request for a commutation.
Coble "does not deny that he bears responsibility for the victims' loss of life, but he nonetheless wanted his lawyers to present a defense on his behalf," his attorney, A. Richard Ellis, said in his appeal to the Supreme Court.
In Coble's clemency petition to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, Ellis said his client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his time as a Marine during the Vietnam War and was convicted, in part, due to misleading testimony from two prosecution expert witnesses on whether he would be a future danger.
Coble was the third inmate put to death this year in the U.S. and the second in Texas, the nation's busiest capital punishment state.
"This is not a happy night," McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson said. "This is the end of a horror story for the Vicha family."
J.R. Vicha, Bobby Vicha's son, said it would be a relief knowing the execution finally took place after years of delays.
"Still, the way they do it is more humane than what he did to my family. It's not what he deserves but it will be good to know we got as much justice as allowed by the law," said J.R. Vicha, who was 11 when he was tied up and threatened by Coble during the killings.
Prosecutors said Coble, distraught over his pending divorce, kidnapped his wife, Karen Vicha. He was arrested and later freed on bond.
A Vietnam veteran with no prior criminal convictions, Coble was sentenced to die the following year and has fought his case ever since. Now, he's one of the oldest prisoners on Texas's death row.
Coble and his wife, Karen Vicha, got married in the summer of 1988, according to court records. But their relationship quickly fell apart, and after a bizarre incident in which Coble hid in the woman's trunk and then kidnapped her Vicha pressed charges against him.
Though Coble was arrested, he made bail, and a few days later he showed up at Vicha's house. She wasn't home, but her kids were. Coble tied them up, then left to ambush the rest of the family, according to court records.
He shot and killed Robert and Zelda Vicha, as well as their son Bobby, a local police officer. Afterward, Coble boasted about it to his wife when she got home.
"Karen, I've killed your momma and your daddy and your brother," he said, according to court records, "and they are all dead, and nobody is going to come help you now."
After letting the woman kiss her children goodbye, Coble took her on a wild ride, handcuffing her. He pistol-whipped her and drove to a deserted field where he threatened to rape her, according to court records.
As he left the field, a sheriff's patrol car started following them. Coble began stabbing Vicha's chin and face as he was driving, then rammed into a parked car in an apparent effort to kill himself, saying he didn't want to die in prison.
Officers cut the car door open to save Vicha and arrested Coble. He was convicted and sentenced to die. In 2007, he won a new sentencing hearing, but once again, he was sentenced to death.
In order to hand down a death sentence in Texas, the state has to show that a defendant will be a future danger, even in prison. During Coble's resentencing, a state expert testified about his future dangerousness, and his defense team later challenged that finding by arguing that the testimony was "junk science."
The expert, Austin psychiatrist Dr. Richard E. Coons, had testified in 1990 that Coble would commit future acts of violence in prison. But Coble had behaved on death row, seemingly refuting the professional prediction. Yet prosecutors called Coons to testify again.
"Dr. Coons admitted that his methodology could not be traced to a particular textbook or professional journal, nor could he cite even one authority or article that supported it," Coble's legal team wrote. "Coons had never gone back to check prison records of those he had testified against to see if his predictions were accurate, and consequently had no idea of his own accuracy rate."
In Coble's case, prosecutors argued that there was enough other evidence of future dangerousness that Coons' testimony didn't matter. Despite a spotless prison record for three decades, state and federal judges turned down Coble's appeals, and later the U.S. Supreme Court did, too.
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