Northeast Texas man scheduled to be executed for 1993 murder

Billy Joe Wardlow

A Texas death row inmate condemned for fatally shooting an 82-year-old man nearly three decades ago was executed Wednesday at the Huntsville “Walls” Unit. It was the first state execution in the nation’s busiest death penalty state in five months.

Billy Joe Wardlow, 45, received a lethal dose of pentobarbital for the June 1993 murder of Carl Cole at his home in the small town of Carson, about 130 miles east of Dallas in the East Texas piney woods. He was pronounced dead at 6:52 p.m.

Prosecutors said the killing was part of an attempt to steal a pickup truck and cash from the man’s home. They say that Wardlow admitted to the crime in a letter to the county sheriff, but testified in his 1995 trial that he didn’t intend to kill Cole.

He gave no final statement and spent his final moments smiling and consoling his family in the adjoining witness room.

Wardlow was 18 at the time of the slaying, and his attorneys had argued that one of the issues Texas jurors have to determine before imposing a death sentence — whether a defendant will be a future danger — can’t be reliably made for people younger than 21 because scientific research has shown their brains are still developing. That appeal was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court shortly after 6 p.m.

Wardlow became the first execution in Texas since Feb. 6. Missouri was the first state in the U.S. to carry out an execution following pandemic-related shutdowns. No other executions have taken place in the U.S. since that one on May 19.

Six executions scheduled in Texas for earlier this year were postponed by the courts because of the outbreak. Two others, including one scheduled execution last month, were delayed over different issues.

Wardlow was the third inmate executed this year in Texas and the seventh in the U.S.

Juan A. Lozano with the Associated Press contributed to this report.