By Lizzie Thomas | Staff Writer
Billie Wayne Coble, a former resident of Axtell, a town northeast of Waco, will be executed Feb. 28, 2019 for the murders of three members of his estranged wife’s family.
The sentence, handed down by 54th State District Judge Matt Johnson on Oct. 17, makes Coble, at 70-years-old, one of the oldest inmates on death row in Texas. He will be executed about 30 years after he abducted his estranged wife and murdered three members of her family.
J. R. Vicha is now a local attorney, but in 1989 he went to his aunt’s house after his second day of school of sixth grade. There Coble tied him and three of his cousins up and abducted his aunt, Vicha said.
“He tied us to the bed — one on each corner — and put duct tape over our mouths, which didn’t work because of the humidity. I figured he was just there to take my aunt, which he did, eventually, before he left,” Vicha said.
Vicha said these crimes made him want to pursue law enforcement.
Vicha was a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office until 2014, but now he has his own law practice. When Vicha stopped working for the DA, he was the top prosecutor in the 54th District Court.
All the punishment trials of that period were retried in 2008 because of a different questionable case. Coble’s conviction was not retried, just the sentence, which remained the same after the retrial. Vicha testified in 2008, but not in 1990 because at the time, he was 11 years old.
Vicha said a 10 year period before death sentence is typical, but they can be longer. Because of the resentencing, Coble’s delay was even longer.
According to Baylor Law School professor Brian Serr, these delays are due to the strict procedure that comes with the death penalty.
“Often it’s years after the crime that the state gets around to executing the convict, but by then they might be a different person,” Serr said.
Lots of people are convicted of a capital offense before evidence comes to light. It’s a permanent punishment necessarily given by an imperfect system, according to Serr.
“Obviously it’s a final and irreversible punishment, which is dangerous given the imperfection of the system,” Serr said.
The primary argument for the death penalty is deterrence, according to Serr. However, he said that may not necessarily be effective because many people commit a capital offense in the heat of the moment — they aren’t really thinking about the consequences.
“Another argument is retribution — it can quench society’s need for justice,” Serr said.
According to Serr, families of victims want justice and need to be able to move on. In many cases, especially given the severity and brutality of the crime, the death penalty satisfies that need.