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TX: Retrial of Billie Wayne Coble cost taxpayers at least
Sat Oct 11, 2008 18:09
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Retrial of Billie Wayne Coble cost taxpayers at least $99,000

Saturday, October 11, 2008

By Tommy Witherspoon

Tribune-Herald staff writer

To some, it was a huge waste of taxpayer money. To others, it was 
necessary to properly ensure the rights of the accused, especially in 
a death penalty case. And some say you just can’t put a price on 
justice.

Still, the retrial last month of convicted triple-murderer Billie 
Wayne Coble cost McLennan County taxpayers at least $99,834, 
according to records reviewed by the Tribune-Herald.

A McLennan County jury sent Coble, 60, back to death row after an 
eight-day punishment trial. A federal appeals court had overturned 
Coble’s 1990 death sentence in the August 1989 shooting deaths of his 
estranged wife’s parents, Robert and Zelda Vicha, and her brother, 
Waco police Sgt. Bobby Vicha, at their Axtell homes.

“In my calculation, the money the taxpayers spent on this trial was 
money well spent to attain the justice deserved,” said McLennan 
County District Attorney John Segrest, who prosecuted the case with 
his top assistant, Crawford Long. “You can’t put a price tag on 
justice. Money is not the issue. It is doing the right thing for this 
(Vicha) family.”

The majority of the total went to court-appointed defense attorneys 
Russ Hunt Jr. and Alex Calhoun.

Requisition forms submitted by Hunt totaled $32,000, while a partial 
bill from Calhoun totaled $24,500.

Calhoun said he has not sent his final bill to 54th State District 
Judge Matt Johnson, but said his final tally will be at least as much 
as Hunt was paid.

Hunt and Calhoun were paid $120 an hour while in court and $80 an 
hour for their out-of-court preparation time. They were paid $400 a 
day during the three-week jury selection process, $50 an hour for 
their travel time from Williamson and Travis counties, respectively, 
and 48 cents a mile.

Calhoun, who entered the case to replace another attorney in May, 
said he and Hunt spent a “massive amount of time” preparing for the 
case, ever cognizant that a man’s life was in their hands.

“Capital cases are not your typical dope case,” he said. “It takes a 
great deal of preparation. Even so, the defense bar is typically paid 
less than the civil bar. They are fighting over money. Human life is 
typically considered cheaper than that.”

The roughly $64,000 paid to the defense team compares with the 
$37,890 that Coble’s first pair of trial lawyers, Hoagie Karels and 
the late Ken Ables, were paid in 1990.

The 12 members of Coble’s jury and two alternate jurors were paid 
$7.50 for the first day and $40 for each day after that, totaling 
$8,470 for the eight-day trial.

Among the other expenses, defense investigators Ed McElyea and Don 
Youngblood were paid $6,641 and $765, respectively; Austin 
psychiatrist Richard Coons, a state’s expert witness, was paid 
$12,600; A.P. Meirlot, another state witness, was paid $650; Gerald 
L. Byington, a defense mitigation specialist, was paid $2,348; and 
Lee Carter, a Waco psychologist who evaluated Coble, was paid $3,250.

A defense investigator has already been paid $440 to begin work on 
Coble’s appeal, and two attorneys will be paid about $80 an hour in 
the future as they continue to work on Coble’s appeals.

Items not figured into the total include the salaries of Segrest, 
Long and their staff of investigators; expenses for two deputies to 
bring back to Waco four state prison inmates, including two from 
death row near Livingston who testified as defense witnesses; and 
travel reimbursement for state witnesses.

Was it worth it?

Among those who believe Coble’s retrial was unnecessary and a waste 
of money are members of the Vicha family. Bobby Vicha’s son, J.R. 
Vicha, was 11 at the time and was tied up by Coble with his cousins 
after he killed Vicha’s father and grandparents. He now works for 
Segrest as an assistant district attorney.

“Even though I think it was a waste of money and wrong, I understand 
why it happened and am just glad the jury did the right thing for the 
second time,” he said.

Russ Hunt Sr., who has represented many capital murder defendants in 
his 35 years as a defense attorney, said if people are concerned 
about the money it costs to try death penalty cases, perhaps 
officials should reconsider trying to put inmates on death row.

“I would say that the money is wasted in that it is a shame that we 
have to seek the death penalty,” Hunt said. “Because if you think of 
the overall costs, as a general rule, you are going to spend about 
three times as much if you seek the death penalty than if you don’t 
seek the death penalty. I don’t know that that is a good expense for 
our taxpayers.”

twitherspoon@wacotrib.com

757-5737

http://www.wacotrib.com/news/content/news/stories/2008/10/11/10112008waccobleexpenses.html?cxtype=rss&cxsvc=7&cxcat=11

  • Retrial in 3 killings ends in death sentence WACO — A man who spent more than 17 years on Death Row before his sentence was overturned last year is headed back there. After hearing eight days of... more
    • TX: Retrial of Billie Wayne Coble cost taxpayers at least — Petra, Sat Oct 11 18:09
      • legal costsj cotter (uk), Tue Nov 25 12:23
        you cannot put price on anyones life when it is at stake over the death penalty,the only way to avoid these high costs is to ensure defendent pleads not guilty if the evedince is overwelming against... more
        • Re: legal costsxkittenx, Mon Dec 1 14:41
          guilty or not everybody is entitled to a defence.If they executed with in 3 yrs there would be a lot of innocent inmates Murdered hun
        • Maryland: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/MDTestimony08.pdf Texas death penalty cases cost more than non-capital cases That is about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at... more
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