Execution set for triple murderer

Billie Wayne Coble

One of the oldest inmates on death row is scheduled to die by lethal injection Thursday, nearly 30 years after the slaying of his brother-in-law, Waco police Sgt. Bobby Vicha, and Vicha’s parents, Robert and Selda Vicha, at their homes near Waco. 

According to court records, Billie Wayne Coble, 70, was admittedly distraught over the failure of his third marriage when he slaughtered his estranged wife's parents and brother during in an “apparent act of vengeance” in the summer of 1989.

The Vietnam veteran with no priors, is still awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, as of Tuesday, on a petition for a writ of certiorari and an application for a stay of execution. Coble was originally convicted and sentenced to death in April 1990, but the sentence would be overturned by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court on Appeals in 2007 on the issue of “ineffective assistance of counsel.” Coble was granted a new punishment hearing in September 2008 and was again sentenced to death.

“Several months before trial, his (Coble) lawyers filed a notice of intent to raise an insanity defense and in jury selection, defense counsel questioned prospective jurors about how they may respond to evidence tied to that defense,” Coble’s appeal attorney Allen Richard Ellis said in the writ petition. “After the state rested in the guilt phase, defense counsel abruptly changed course. They called no expert witnesses or lay witnesses. Instead, the entire guilt-phase presentation consisted of a defense investigator playing silent archival footage that depicted scenes from the Vietnam War—a war in which Mr. Coble fought extensively as a member of the Marine Corps some decades earlier.

“In closing arguments—they did not make an opening statement—they conceded Mr. Coble’s guilt. Nobody expected defense counsel to proceed in this feeble manner. The move stunned the prosecutors, the media and the defendant himself.”

However, a response from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, stated that “Coble advances no compelling reason to review his case, and none exists.”

Court records state that Coble was married to his third wife, Karen Vicha, in July 1988 and lived in a house across the street from her parents.

“The marriage quickly disintegrated and, after a year, Karen told Coble to move out and that she wanted a divorce,” court records state. “Coble attempted to talk Karen out of this decision and would randomly call her and show up at her work place.”

Testimony shows that Coble then kidnapped Karen as a further effort to dissuade her from divorcing him by hiding in the trunk of her car while she was at a bar with a girlfriend. When Karen started to drive home, Coble folded down the back seat and “popped out of the trunk with a knife.” Records state that he jumped over the console, halfway into the front seat and struck the victim with the knife against her ribs.

“Coble stated that if he couldn’t have her, then no one else could,” testimony shows.

Coble would let Karen go, but was later arrested for kidnapping at the urging of Karen’s brother Bobby. Nine days after Coble was released on bond he returned to Karen’s house where he handcuffed her three daughters, tied up their feet and taped their mouths closed. Then he left to shoot Karen’s father, mother and brother as each of them came home.

Records state that Coble returned to Karen’s house after the triple homicide 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 a bedroom with a gun and 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.”

Testimony states that Coble then told Karen that she was lucky and that he hadn’t molested her daughters, and told her to kiss them good-bye. Karen talked Coble into leaving the house, taking her with him, where he had planned to torture her for a few weeks.

Coble drove Karen to a deserted field in Bosque County, where he threatened to rape her. However, shortly after dark, Coble drove passed a sheriff’s patrol car, which turned around and followed them. The suspect then grabbed a knife and started stabbing Karen’s chin, forehead and nose as he was driving. He stated that he didn’t want to die in prison, so he “floored it” and rammed into a parked car. Both Coble and Karen were injured in the crash, with authorities having to cut the car door open to get her out. The suspect was found with Karen’s father’s watch and wallet along with two revolvers.

“Petitioner (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,” Ellis added. “They had planned for months to proceed with an insanity defense, and Petitioner did not agree with their decision to drop his defense and concede his guilt.”

Coble is scheduled to be put to death after 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Huntsville “Walls” Unit. He is set to be the second person executed by the state of Texas in 2019 and third inmate put to death in the country.