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A jury found Coble guilty of capital murder in April 1990 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in 1993.
Coble's death sentence was overturned in 2007 by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, on the grounds that the jury was not afforded the opportunity to consider potentially mitigating evidence at his punishment hearing - specifically, evidence of mental illness and a troubled background. A new sentencing hearing was held in September 2008. The jury again sentenced Coble to death. All of his subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.
At Coble's second sentencing hearing, his first wife, Pam Woolley, testified that they were married in 1970, when Coble was 22. Their marriage started downhill after two years. She said Coble could go from normal to extremely angry in a split second. She testified that he hit her with a baseball bat, slapped her so hard she fell to the floor, and punched her in the face, breaking her nose. She said he always blamed her for his violent acts and told her that if she ever filed for divorce, she would "fix her" so that no other man would look at her.
Coble's second wife, Candy Ryan, testified that she was 18 and Coble was 35 when they married. After a year, he began physically abusing her. He regularly hit her on the head. He also grabbed her by the hair and repeatedly slammed her head against the cabinet and floor. She said he had a "switch-type" personality that would go from sweet to nasty in a split second. She testified that he would wait in his car outside the gas station where she worked and, if he felt that a customer stayed inside the store too long, he would come inside and intimidate them so that they would leave.
Other witnesses testified that during his marriage to Woolley, Coble molested his children's 13-year-old babysitter, raped his 15-year-old cousin, and forcibly kissed his 15-year-old niece.
At age 15, Coble was diagnosed with "a sociopathic personality disturbance." He enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 17 and served a four-year tour of duty in Vietnam. He was given an honorable discharge, but was not recommended for re-enlistment because of a series of conduct violations and convictions.
Coble attempted to persuade jurors that he had grown out of or reformed from his violent tendencies during his 18 years on Death Row and was no longer a danger to society. He presented evidence that he did not have any disciplinary write-ups on his prison record. Fellow inmates testified that he was known as an even-tempered person who could "talk sense" into some of the more violent inmates and that he was helpful, generous, and respectful of authority.
Prosecutors argued that Coble's success in adapting well to the highly-structured environment of prison did not mean he had reformed his character. Evidence was presented that Coble's prison cell was filled with pictures of scantily-clad young women and girls, including gymnasts and figure skaters. Karen Vicha also testified that when she appeared in court for a hearing in 1998, Coble kept turning around and looking at her with a "weird evil grin." The judge ordered him to stop. She testified that he looked at her the same way during the 2008 hearing.
In an interview from Death Row, Coble appeared uninterested in discussing his crime and did not express any remorse for his actions. When asked to comment on the hate that drove him to kill three people, he answered, "God is in total control. He allows things to happen for His purpose."
He did object to being put to death. "[The] death penalty is based on hate and revenge. Where in the world, any time in history, has hate and revenge ever solved anything?" he asked.
In a last-ditch effort to win a stay of execution for their client, Coble's lawyers claimed in a filing to the U.S. Supreme Court that the lawyers at his trial 29 years ago surprised Coble by opting to concede his guilt after the prosecution rested its case, rather than presenting an insanity defense, as they had planned. Attorney A. Richard Ellis stated that the Supreme Court's 2018 ruling in the case McCoy v. Louisiana pertained to this issue. The Court denied this appeal on the afternoon of Coble's execution.
Coble invited five people to witness his death, including his two sons and his daughter-in-law.
When the warden asked if he wanted to make a last statement, Coble said, "That'll be five dollars." He then turned to his witnesses, told hem he loved them, and again said, "That'll be five dollars." He then nodded at them and said, "take care." The lethal injection was then started.
After Coble closed his eyes, his son, Gordon, banged on the glass window of the viewing room. According to one reporter, he and two other people became emotional and violent. "They were yelling obscenities, throwing fists, and kicking at others in the death chamber witness area," the Associated Press report stated. Officers then dragged Gordon Coble and Dalton Coble out of the witness room.
"This is bull****," Gordon said. "You just killed my father."
"Why are ya'all dragging them? They're upset?" Nelley Coble asked. "You killed their father and this is how you're treating them." She was also escorted from the room.
Gordon and Dalton were subsequently taken to the Walker County Jail on charges of resisting arrest.
Billie Coble was pronounced dead at 6:24 p.m. At age 70, he is the oldest person ever executed in Texas by lethal injection, which was introduced in the state 1982 and has been the only method used since then. The previous holder of that record was Lester Bower, who was executed in 2015 at age 67 for the 1983 murder of four men during the theft of an aircraft.
Of the 221 prisoners currently on Texas' Death Row, only 14 have been there longer than Coble. The oldest condemned prisoner is Carl Wayne Buntion, 74, who was convicted of killing a police officer during a traffic stop in 1990.
By David Carson. Posted on 1 March 2019.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, court documents, Associated Press, Huntsville Item, Sky News, Texas Tribune.