2 arrested as chaos erupts during Texas execution

by Bamidele Ogunberu Posted on March 1st, 2019

Huntsville, Texas — Chaos erupted outside Texas’ death chamber Thursday night when the son of the condemned inmate pounded on the chamber windows, shouted obscenities and threw fists after his father spoke his final words.

Billie Wayne Coble, a Vietnam War veteran who killed his estranged wife’s parents and brother and threated to do the same to her in 1989, told the five witnesses he selected to attend his execution that he loved them. Coble nodded at them as they watched from the witness room, adding: “Take care.”

When he finished speaking, his son, a friend and a daughter-in-law became emotional, throwing fists and kicking at others in the death chamber witness area. Officers stepped in but said the witnesses continued to resist and were eventually moved to a courtyard where the son and another man were handcuffed. They were arrested on charges of resisting an officer.

“Why are you doing this?” the woman asked. “They just killed his daddy.”

As the men were being subdued outside, a single dose of pentobarbital was injected into Coble. He gasped several times and began snoring as the lethal dose of drug was being administered inside the death chamber at the state penitentiary in Huntsville.

He was pronounced dead 11 minutes later, at 6:24 p.m.

The 70-year-old Coble was the oldest inmate executed by Texas since the state resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982. He was convicted three decades ago for the August 1989 shooting deaths of Robert and Zelda Vicha, and their son, Bobby Vicha, at separate homes in Axtell, which is northeast of Waco.

Prosecutors once described Coble as having “a heart full of scorpions.”

Coble, distraught over his pending divorce, kidnapped his wife, Karen Vicha. He was arrested and later freed on bond. Nine days after the kidnapping, Coble went to her home, where he handcuffed and tied up her three daughters and nephew, J.R. Vicha, according to investigators.

Coble then went to the homes of Robert and Zelda Vicha, 64 and 60 respectively, and Bobby Vicha, 39, who lived nearby, and fatally shot them.

After Karen Vicha returned home, Coble abducted her. He drove away, assaulted her and threatened to rape and kill her. He was arrested after wrecking the vehicle in neighbouring Bosque County following a police chase.

Coble was convicted of capital murder in 1990. An appeals court ordered a new trial on punishment in 2007, but a second jury also sentenced him to death.

J.R. Vicha, Bobby Vicha’s son, was 11 when he was tied up and threatened by Coble during the killings. Coble’s execution would be a relief knowing the execution finally took place, said Vicha, who eventually became a prosecutor in part because of his father.

“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,” he said ahead of the execution.

“This is not a happy night,” added McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson. “This is the end of a horror story for the Vicha family.”

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Coble’s request to delay his execution. His attorneys had argued that Coble’s original trial lawyers were negligent for conceding his guilt by failing to present an insanity defence.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles also turned down his request for a commutation.

Coble’s attorney, A. Richard Ellis, told the courts that Coble suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his time as a Marine during the Vietnam War. Ellis argued that Coble was convicted in part because of 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.

J.R. Vicha, 40, still lives in the Waco area. His father was a police sergeant in Waco when he was killed, while his grandfather was a retired plumber and his grandmother worked for a foot doctor.

Vicha is working to get 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. And when I hear stories about them, it still makes it feel like they’re kinda still here,” Vicha said.

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Bamidele Ogunberu

Bamidele Ogunberu

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