Thursday, January 10, 2008

New date set for Coble punishment trial

According to the Waco Tribune-Herald (January 10, 2008), Judge Matt Johnson of Waco’s 54th State District Court has set August 4 as the date to begin jury selection for a new sentencing hearing for Billie Wayne Coble. Coble's death sentence was overturned last year by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the statute in effect in Texas at the time of Coble's conviction (1990) had prevented the jury from fully considering the mitigating evidence presented by his trial attorneys. Coble was convicted 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 McLennan County District Attorney's office has announced that it again will seek the death penalty for the now 59-year-old Coble.

According to the Tribune-Herald, Coble’s trial attorneys offered testimony about his troubled childhood and his traumatic Vietnam combat experiences. 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.

Coble's appellate attorneys Russ Hunt Jr. and Scott Stevens will seek to present evidence to the jury regarding Coble's mental illness. "Hunt said Coble’s trial will focus on his mental state at the time of the offense and his nonviolent record during his 18 years on death row. 'We will be able to do a better job of telling the whole story to the jury and explaining to a jury and having some experts explaining to a jury why a person would do what Mr. Coble did in this situation,' Hunt said."

"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,” Judge Garza wrote in the 5th Circuit opinion. “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.”

Read the full article:

Earlier coverage of the Coble case is available here.

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