Billy Wayne Coble, 70, was put to death in Texas by lethal injection nearly 30 years after murdering his wife’s parents and brother.
Billie Wayne Coble is the oldest inmate executed in Texas since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982.
A review of court records sets out the factual background in Coble’s case as follows:
Karen Vicha was Coble’s third wife. They were married in July 1988 and lived in a house down the road from her brother and across the street from her parents. Coble was almost forty years old. The marriage quickly disintegrated, and after a year, Karen told Coble to move out. She wanted a divorce. Coble attempted to talk her out of this decision and would randomly call her and show up at her workplace.
Coble then kidnapped Karen as a further effort to dissuade her from divorcing him. He hid in the trunk of her car while she was at a bar one evening with a girlfriend. When Karen started to drive home, Coble folded down the back seat and “popped out of the trunk with a knife.” He jumped over the console, halfway into the front seat, and stuck the knife against Karen’s ribs. He told her to keep driving until they came to a field. Karen stopped the car, and Coble said that if he couldn’t have her, then no one else could. He pulled out a roll of black electrical tape, but Karen kept talking, and, after about two hours, she convinced him that she would reconsider the divorce issue. He let her go, and she called her brother, Bobby, who was a police officer. Bobby told Karen to report the kidnapping.
After he arrested Coble for kidnapping Karen, Officer James Head looked in his patrol-car mirror and saw Coble staring at him with a look that “made the hair on the back of [his] head stand up.” He got “the heebie-jeebies.” Coble muttered something like “They’re going to be sorry.” Officer Head called Karen’s brother, Bobby, and warned him about Coble. When Coble was released on bail for the kidnapping charge, Bobby got Karen a German shepherd for protection. A few days later, Coble told Karen, “oh, I see you-you’ve got a dog now ․ [T]hat’s a big mean dog you’ve got.” Shortly thereafter, Karen found the dog lying dead in front of her house.
Nine days after he had kidnapped Karen, [Coble] went to her house in the early afternoon. As Karen’s three daughters each came home from school along with Bobby’s son, Coble handcuffed them, tied up their feet, and taped their mouths closed. Karen’s oldest daughter testified that she heard Coble cut the telephone lines. Then he left to ambush and shoot Karen’s father, mother and brother Bobby as each of them came home.
Coble returned to Karen’s house after the triple killings and waited for his wife to come home from work. He told the children, “I wish I had blown you away like I intended to.” When Karen arrived, Coble came out of one of the bedrooms with a gun. Coble said, “Karen, I’ve killed your momma and your daddy and your brother, and they are all dead, and nobody is going to come help you now.” She didn’t believe him, so Coble showed her Bobby’s gun lying on the kitchen table and pulled the curtains so she could see her father’s truck parked behind the house. He showed her $1,000 in cash that he had taken from her mother. Coble told Karen that she was lucky that he hadn’t molested her daughters, and he told her to kiss them good-bye. She did. He made her put on handcuffs. Karen talked Coble into leaving the house and taking her with him. He said he was going to take her away for a few weeks and torture her.
As Coble drove, Karen tried to escape by freeing one hand from the handcuffs and grabbing at the steering wheel, making the car swerve into a ditch. She grabbed one of Coble’s guns, pointed it at his stomach, and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. Then Karen and Coble fought over the gun, with Coble repeatedly pulling the trigger, but still the gun did not fire. Coble pistol-whipped Karen until she couldn’t see for all of the blood on her face. A woman passerby started shouting at Coble, “[W]hat are you trying to do to that woman,” so Coble drove the car out of the ditch as Karen lay in the passenger seat. He shouted at her that if she got blood on his clothes, he would kill her. But he was also rubbing her between her legs as he drove. He told her that his reputation was ruined because she had had him arrested and his name was in the papers.
He drove to a deserted field in Bosque County where he threatened to rape her. After dark, he drove out of the field, but they passed a sheriff’s patrol car which turned around to follow them. Coble grabbed a knife and started stabbing Karen’s chin, forehead, and nose, as he was driving. Coble said that he did not want to die in prison, so he “floored it” and rammed into a parked car. After the crash, Coble turned to Karen and said, “I guess now you’ll get a new car.” Both Coble and Karen were injured in the crash. Officers had to cut the car door open to get Karen out. Coble was found with Karen’s father’s watch and wallet, as well as .37 and .38 caliber revolvers.
Coble was convicted and sentenced to death. His conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal.
OUR FREE OPINION
We find the facts of this case to be grossly disturbing. We note that a lengthy hearing was held to determine whether Coble received due process on the issue of whether the death penalty was the right sentence because of Coble’s accomplishments in prison where he waited for a final decision. Because we are opposed to the death penalty under all circumstances, we believe a life without the possibility of parole would have been an adequate sentence.