The man is set to be executed for killing estranged wife’s family

This undated photo from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Billie Wayne Coble. The Texas death row prisoner once described by a prosecutor as having “a heart full of scorpions” was set to be executed Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, for fatally shooting his estranged wife’s parents and her brother, who had been a police officer. Coble was convicted of the August 1989 death of Robert and Zelda Vicha and their son, Bobby Vicha, at their home in Axtell, northeast of Waco. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP)

HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Texas death row inmate once described by a prosecutor as having “a heart full of scorpions” was set to be executed Thursday for the killing of his estranged wife’s parents and her brother, who was a police officer.

Billie Wayne Coble was convicted of the August 1989 shooting deaths of his in-laws, Robert and Zelda Vicha and their son, Bobby Vicha, at their home in Axtell, northeast of Waco.

Coble, 70, would be the third prisoner put to death this year in the U.S., and the second in Texas, which is the nation’s busiest death penalty state.

His lawyers have asked the Supreme court of the V. S. for the implementation, with the argument Coble the original trial lawyers were negligent to admit to his fault by the absence of an insanity defense before a jury convicted him of capital murder.

A member state, the court of appeal rejected Coble’s request to delay Thursday’s execution and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected his request for a surrender.

Coble “does not deny that he bears the responsibility for the victims’ loss of life, but he still wanted his lawyers to make a defense on his name,” his attorney, A. Richard Ellis, said in his appeal to the Supreme court.

In Coble, the clemency petition to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, Ellis said that his client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his time as a Marine during the Vietnam War and was convicted in part due to the misleading testimony of two prosecution of an expert on the question of whether he would be a future danger.

J. R. Vicha, Bobby Vicha’s son, said it will be a relief to you to know the implementation will have finally taken place after years of delay.

“Still, the way they do it is more humane than what he did to my family. It is not what he deserves, but it will be good to know that we still have a lot of justice to the fullest extent permitted by the law,” said J. R. Vicha, who was 11 when he was tied up and threatened by Coble during the murders.

The prosecutors said Coble, distraught over his pending divorce, kidnapped his wife, Karen Vicha. He was arrested and later freed on bond.

Nine days after the abduction, Coble went to Karen Vicha’s home, where he handcuffed and tied with her three daughters and J. R. Vicha. He then went to the home of Robert and Zelda Vicha, 64 and 60, respectively, and Bobby Vicha, 39, who lived nearby, and a deadly shot. After Karen Vicha back home, Coble kidnapped her and drove off, assaulting her and threatening to rape and kill. He was arrested after a crash in the neighboring Bosque County, after a police chase.

Coble was convicted of capital murder in 1990. In 2007, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial on punishment. On new research in 2008, a second jury sentenced him to death.

Crawford Long, the former first assistant district attorney in McLennan County, who helped re-Coble in 2008, said his “heart full of scorpions” description of Coble was appropriate.

“He had no regrets,” said Long, who retired in 2010.

J. R. Vicha, 40, still lives in the Waco area. He eventually became a prosecutor for eight years, a career choice inspired in part by his father, who was a police sergeant in Waco, when he was killed. His grandfather was a retired plumber and his grandmother worked for a foot doctor.

Vicha, now a private practice lawyer, is working to be a part of a highway in the vicinity of his house renamed in honor of his father.

“Every time I go into someone who knew his father and grandparents), it is a good feeling. And when I hear stories about them, it still makes sense that she is still a little bit here,” Vicha said.


Lozano reported from Houston.


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