Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fifth Circuit Overturns Death Sentence; New Trial to Consider Mitigating Evidence

Court overturns Billie Wayne Coble's death sentence

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

By Tommy Witherspoon
Waco Tribune-Herald staff writer

"A year after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of execution for Billie Wayne Coble and 18 years after he reportedly bragged about killing three people in Axtell, the New Orleans-based appeals court has overturned Coble’s death sentence and awarded him a new trial.

In a 28-page opinion issued Tuesday afternoon, the judges of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the two special issues that Coble’s McLennan County jury had to answer for the death penalty to be assessed — whether he commited murder deliberately and would be a future danger to society — were unconstitutional as they were applied to him.

The special issues posed to the jury came from instructions under the Texas death penalty statute at the time. The 5th Circuit’s ruling reflects changes made since then that limit the scope of the death penalty and allow a life sentence to be imposed if Texas juries believe there is sufficient mitigating evidence to preclude the imposition of the death penalty.

Coble, now 58, has been on death row since his 1990 conviction in the August 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged wife’s parents, Robert and Zelda Vicha, of Axtell, and her brother, Waco police Sgt. Bobby Vicha.

The court rejected Coble’s claims he was the victim of ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. However, it reversed the death sentence because the judges said Coble’s jury was not allowed to give proper weight to mitigating factors that could have changed their answer to the future dangerousness issue. ...

State appeal expected

Segrest said Tuesday he expects the attorney general’s office, which represents the state in federal death penalty appeals, to ask the 5th Circuit to reconsider its ruling.

Coble’s attorneys offered testimony at trial about Coble’s troubled childhood and his traumatic experiences in combat while in Vietnam.

5th Circuit Judge Emilio M. Garza wrote that the jury might have placed more relevance on those experiences if given the opportunity by the wording of the special issues.

“'With respect to his mental illness, there was at least some evidence introduced at Coble’s trial that his post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorders were amenable to treatment,'” Garza wrote. “'Based on this evidence, the jury might have concluded that Coble, if properly treated, would be less likely to commit criminal acts constituting a continuing threat to society.

“'Similarly, the jury might have reasoned that as Coble aged and became more chronologically removed from his difficult childhood and traumatic experiences in Vietnam, his troubled background would exercise a lesser degree of influence over his actions, thereby rendering him less of a future danger.'”

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1 comment:

Tim Goodwin, ADP said...

Hi Kristin
Welcome to the growing community of abolitionist bloggers, and congratulations for building awareness around such an important issue.
I've linked to you from ADP.