Texas inmate's execution marred by bizarre final words and fight in death chamber
Billie Wayne Coble was executed on Thursday evening for the murders he committed nearly three decades ago. The victims of the 1989 were his estranged wife's parents, Zelda and Robert, as well as their son and his wife's brother, Bobby, a police officer.
The 70-year-old man had requested that his execution be delayed, but was turned down by the state appeals court. His legal team argued that the original lawyers in his trial were negligent after failing to present an insanity defence. His lawyers said that Coble suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from his time as a Marine in the Vietnam War, and said that he was convicted due to misleading testimony over whether he would be a future danger.
“This is not a happy night,” Barry Johnson, McLennan County District Attorney, said. “This is the end of a horror story for the Vicha family.”
J.R. Vicha, Bobby Vicha's son, was eleven when he was tied up and threatened by Coble, before his father was murdered. He said that he would find relief knowing that the execution would take place, after years of it being delayed. “The way they do it is more humane than what he did to my family," he said. "It’s not what he deserves but it will be good to know we got as much justice as allowed by the law."
After a divorce, Coble had kidnapped his wife, Karen. He was arrested, but later freed on a bond. Just nine days later, he went to her home, where he handcuffed her three daughters alongside J.R. He then went to the homes of her parents and her brother, and fatally shot them. When she arrived home, he abducted, assaulted and threatened her. He was soon arrested after crashing his car, following a police chase.
When he was in the chamber awaiting his execution on Thursday, Coble was asked if he wanted to make a final statement. It was then that he simply said: “That’ll be $5.”
Speaking to the five witnesses there, which included his son, a friend, and his daughter-in-law, he told them he loved them, then repeated, "that'll be $5," adding: "take care."
After he finished his statement and was put to death, his son Gordon and two others became emotional and were reportedly "yelling obscenities, throwing fists and kicking at others in the death chamber witness area". Officers stepped in, moving them to a courtyard where two men were handcuffed. “Why are you doing this?” one woman reportedly asked. “They just killed his daddy.”
Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jeremy Desel stated that these the two men were arrested on a charge of resisting arrest and taken to the Walker County Jail.
After his initial conviction of capital murder in 1990, there was a retrial in 2008, in which a second jury sentenced him to death. One of the initial prosecutors referred to him as having "a heart full of scorpions". Crawford Long, a former first assistant district attorney in McLennan County who helped with the retrial, said that this description was accurate. “He had no remorse at all,” they said.
J.R. Vicha, now 40, still lives in the same area. He became a prosecutor, inspired by his father's death, before later becoming a private practice lawyer. He is now campaigning to have a portion of a highway near his home renamed in honour of his father.
“Every time I run into somebody that knew (his father and grandparents), it’s a good feeling," he said. "And when I hear stories about them, it still makes it feel like they’re kinda still here."
Coble was the third inmate executed in the US this year, and the second in Texas. He was also the oldest inmate to be executed by Texas since they resumed capital punishment in 1982.