Coble v. Stephens, CIVIL ACTION NO. W-12-CV-039

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
PartiesBILLY WAYNE COBLE, Petitioner, v. WILLIAM STEPHENS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division, Respondent.
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. W-12-CV-039
Decision Date30 September 2015

WILLIAM STEPHENS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal
Justice, Institutional Division, Respondent.



September 30, 2015


Two separate juries have unanimously determined that Petitioner Billy Wayne Coble ("Petitioner" or "Coble") should be sentenced to death. In this, his most recent federal habeas corpus application, he seeks review of his sentence. There is no question of his guilt for the brutal slaying of his wife's family. Having reviewed the parties' briefs and the record in this case, the Court is persuaded the request for federal habeas relief is without merit and should be denied.


In 1990, Coble was found guilty of capital murder and was sentenced to death. Coble brutally murdered his mother-in-law, Zelda Vicha, his father-in-law, Robert John Vicha, and his brother-in-law, Bobby Vicha, who was a police officer. After his original conviction and death sentence were affirmed on appeal, Coble's initial petition for a writ of certiorari was denied. Coble v. State, 871 S.W.2d 192

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(Tex.Crim.App. 1993), cert. denied sub nom. Coble v. Texas, 513 U.S. 829, 115 S.Ct. 101, 130 L.Ed.2d 50 (1994). In 1997, Coble filed his first application for a state writ of habeas corpus which was denied by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals after an evidentiary hearing in the trial court. Ex parte Coble, No. 39-707-01 (Tex.Crim.App. 1999). Coble then filed for federal habeas relief, which was denied by this Court. However, a certificate of appealability was granted as to Coble's issue of ineffective assistance of counsel and later as to the issue regarding the constitutionality of the jury instructions regarding mitigation. The Fifth Circuit granted Coble's certificate of appealability on the issue of whether the "special issue" interrogatories in the Texas capital sentencing instructions were constitutionally inadequate. Coble v. Cockrell, 80 Fed.Appx. 301 (5th Cir. 2003). The Fifth Circuit then affirmed the dismissal of his federal habeas petition. Coble v. Dretke, 417 F.3d 508 (5th Cir. 2005). On rehearing, the opinion was withdrawn, but the Fifth Circuit still affirmed the dismissal of Coble's federal habeas petition. Coble v. Dretke, 444 F.3d. 345 (5th Cir. 2006). On further rehearing, that opinion was withdrawn, and the Fifth Circuit reversed the denial of habeas relief on the sentencing special issues and remanded the case. Coble v. Quarterman, 496 F.3d 430 (5th Cir. 2007).

After a trial on sentencing only, Coble was again sentenced to death on September 4, 2008.

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The evidence introduced during the new sentencing trial was set out by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals:

Karen Vicha was appellant's third wife. They were married in July 1988 and lived in a house down the road from her brother and across the street from her parents. Appellant was almost forty years old. The marriage quickly disintegrated,3 and, after a year, Karen told appellant to move out. She wanted a divorce. Appellant attempted to talk her out of this decision and would randomly call her and show up at her work place.
Appellant then kidnapped Karen as a further effort to dissuade her from divorcing him. He hid in the trunk of her car while she was at a bar one evening with a girlfriend. When Karen started to drive home, appellant folded down the back seat and "popped out of the trunk with a knife." He jumped over the console, halfway into the front seat, and stuck the knife against Karen's ribs. He told her to keep driving until they came to a field. Karen stopped the car, and appellant said that if he couldn't have her, then no one else could. He pulled out a roll of black electrical tape, but Karen kept talking, and, after about two hours, she convinced him that she would reconsider the divorce issue. He let her go, and she called her brother, Bobby, who was a police officer. Bobby told Karen to report the kidnapping.
After he arrested appellant for kidnapping Karen, Officer James Head looked in his patrol-car mirror and saw appellant staring at him with a look that "made the hair on the back of [his] head stand up." He got "the heebie-jeebies." Appellant muttered something like "They're going to be sorry." Officer Head called Karen's brother, Bobby, and warned him about appellant. When appellant was released on bail for the kidnapping charge, Bobby got Karen a German shepherd for protection. A few days later, appellant told Karen, "Oh, I see you-you've got a dog now. . . . [T]hat's a big mean dog you've got." Shortly thereafter, Karen found the dog lying dead in front of her house.

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Nine days after he had kidnapped Karen, appellant went to her house in the early afternoon. As Karen's three daughters each came home from school along with Bobby's son,4 appellant handcuffed them, tied up their feet, and taped their mouths closed. Karen's oldest daughter testified that she heard appellant cut the telephone lines. Then he left to ambush and shoot Karen's father, mother, and brother Bobby as each of them came home.5
Appellant returned to Karen's house after the triple killings and waited for his wife to come home from work. He told the children, "I wish I had blown you away like I intended to." When Karen arrived, appellant came out of one of the bedrooms with a gun. Appellant said, "Karen, I've killed your momma and your daddy and your brother, and they are all dead, and nobody is going to come help you now." She didn't believe him, so appellant showed her Bobby's gun lying on the kitchen table and pulled the curtains so she could see her father's truck parked behind the house. He showed her $1,000 in cash that he had taken from her mother. Appellant told Karen that she was lucky that he hadn't molested her daughters, and he told her to kiss them good-bye. She did. He made her put on handcuffs. Karen talked appellant into

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leaving the house and taking her with him.6 He said he was going to take her away for a few weeks and torture her.7
As appellant drove, Karen tried to escape by freeing one hand from the handcuffs and grabbing at the steering wheel, making the car swerve into a ditch. She grabbed one of appellant's guns, point it at his stomach, and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. Then Karen and appellant fought over the gun, with appellant repeatedly pulling the trigger, but still the gun did not fire. Appellant pistol-whipped Karen until she couldn't see for all of the blood on her face. A woman passerby started shouting at appellant, "[W]hat are you trying to do to that woman," so appellant drove the car out of the ditch as Karen lay in the passenger seat. He shouted at her that if she got blood on his clothes, he would kill her. But he was also rubbing her between her legs as he drove. He told her that his reputation was ruined because she had had him arrested and his name was in the papers.
He drove to a deserted field in Bosque County where he threatened to rape her. After dark, he drove out of the field, but they passed a sheriff's patrol car which turned around to follow them. Appellant grabbed a knife and started stabbing Karen's chin, forehead, and nose, as he was driving. Appellant said that he did not want to die in prison, so he "floored it" and rammed into a parked car. After the crash, appellant turned to Karen and said, "I guess now you'll get a new car." Both appellant and Karen were injured in the crash. Officers had to cut the car door open to get Karen out. Appellant was found with Karen's father's watch and wallet, as well as .37 and .38 caliber revolvers.
Although appellant was forty years old when he committed this triple murder, the State's evidence showed that he was no stranger to violence. He had a long history of brutalizing and molesting women.

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Appellant beat both of his former wives and molested several young girls, including relatives.
His first wife, Pam Woolley, testified that they were married in 1970 when appellant was twenty-two. They had two children, but their marriage started downhill after two years. By 1974, appellant had become violent, and he used to beat her on the head so that her hair would hide the marks.8 Pam said that appellant could go from normal to extremely angry in a split second, and he always blamed her for his violent acts. Appellant told her that if she ever filed for divorce, he would "fix her" so no other man would look at her again.
During this ten-year marriage, appellant molested Pam's younger sister and punched her on the mouth, "busting" her lip. He molested his children's thirteen-year-old babysitter while teaching her how to water ski. He groped the breast of another neighborhood girl. In 1979, when appellant was thirty, he raped his cousin who was about fifteen at the time. When appellant's niece was fifteen, he grabbed her ankles as she sat in a chair wearing a nightgown, spread open her legs, and gestured with his tongue as if he were performing oral sex on her. Later that same day, he forcibly kissed her and then threw her a $5 bill.
Appellant married Candy Ryan, his second wife, when he was thirty-five and she was eighteen. After one year of marriage, appellant started physically abusing her. He regularly hit her on the head. Once he grabbed her by the hair and repeatedly hit her against the cabinet and floor. After she dared to throw something at him, he hit her with a sledge

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