Prosecutors in Oklahoma will seek the death penalty for William Lewis Reece, the man suspected in the killing of four women 20 years ago, including 17-year-old Jessica Cain, of Tiki Island, and 12-year-old Laura Smither, of Friendswood.
Reece is on trial in Oklahoma County, Okla., for the killing of Tiffany Johnson, a 19-year-old newlywed who was strangled in July 1997.
He was charged for that murder in 2015 based on DNA testing, and later admitted to killing “the Oklahoma girl,” according to investigators.
At a court hearing on Thursday, a judge ruled that prosecutors had enough evidence to go forward with a trial. A district attorney then presented Reece with a document informing him that the state believes he “should be punished by death,” according to The Oklahoman newspaper.
He did not react to the news.
The choice to seek the death penalty is the latest development in a cold case that reignited last year. Reece, who was already serving a 60-year sentence for kidnapping, led investigators to the bodies of Cain and Kelli Ann Cox, a 20-year-old Denton County woman. Cain’s remains were found in a Houston field in March. Cox’s remains were found in Brazoria County six weeks later.
Smither vanished after leaving her Friendswood home for a jog in April 1997. Her body was found weeks later in Pasadena. Reece had long been considered a person of interest in her death.
Reece was indicted by a Galveston County grand jury for the killings of Cain and Smither in September. He is a suspect, but has not yet been charged, in Cox’s death.
If Reece is convicted and sentenced to death, there would be a yearslong legal process before the sentence was carried out. Galveston County prosecutors say they intend to try Reece.
Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady said his office was not consulted about the Oklahoma office’s plans, and that he still intends to try Reece for the killings of Cain and Smither after his trial in Oklahoma ends.
“The important thing is that he’s held responsible for all of the murders for which he’s been charged,” Roady said. “You still have these open cases that need to be dealt with.”
Roady has said he is open to all “aspects” of prosecution in the Texas cases, which includes the possibility of the death penalty.
Since 1976, Oklahoma has executed more people per capita than any other state, and in 2016 voters approved a measure adding the punishment to the state’s constitution. Still, there hasn’t been an execution there since 2015, because of a moratorium put in place after a botched execution in 2014 and two other drug mix-ups in 2015.
Despite his alleged admission, Reece pleaded not guilty to Johnson’s death Thursday, according to online court records. His next scheduled court date is in October.