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A murderer facing execution in Oklahoma has been handed three life sentences in Texas for his other murders.
William Lewis Reece, 62, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to the 1997 murders of Laura Smither, 12, and Jessica Cain,17, in a Galveston County courtroom, according to NBC Houston affiliate KPRC. Reece, who has long been suspected of being a serial killer, was then transported to a Brazoria County courtroom, where he pleaded guilty to the murder of Kelli Ann Cox, 20.
Reece was handed three life sentences, one for each murder, according to ABC Houston affiliate KTRK-TV.
“Twenty-five years is an awfully long time to be waiting for justice, and there were a number of years in there where we truly didn’t think we’d ever see this day,” said Gay Smither, mother of Laura Smither.
The four murders took place during a four-month period in 1997, shortly after Reece was released from an Oklahoma prison for previous rape and kidnapping convictions.
It began with the disappearance of Laura Smither of Friendswood, Texas, who was reported missing when she failed to return from a jog on April 3, 1997, according to The Houston Chronicle. Her body was found 12 miles away in a retention pond days later.
In May, Reece kidnapped Sandra Sapaugh, 19, at knifepoint from a Webster, Texas convenience store. Reece forced her into a truck, but Sapaugh narrowly escaped by jumping out the window as Reece drove down the I-45, according to the Chronicle. Police investigated the kidnapping, but it took several months to identify and arrest Reece.
Meanwhile, Kelli Ann Cox disappeared from Denton, Texas on July 15, 1997, after touring the local jail as part of a college field trip. It would take nearly 20 years to find her body.
Tiffany Johnston then vanished from a car wash in Bethany, Oklahoma on July 26, 1997. Prosecutors claim that Reece stalked Johnston, the daughter of Reece’s mother’s best friend. Johnston’s partially nude body was discovered one day after she disappeared; Reece allegedly raped her in a horse trailer and strangled her to death, according to CBS Houston affiliate KHOU.
Reece’s last known victim was Jessica Cain, who was reported missing on Aug. 17, 1997, after her truck was found abandoned on the shoulder of the I-45. Like Cox, she would remain missing for years.
Weeks after Cain’s disappearance, Reece was arrested and charged with Sapaugh’s kidnapping. Although Reece was a suspect in Cain’s disappearance, he was only convicted of Sapaugh’s kidnapping and, in 1998, sentenced to serve 60 years behind bars.
In 2015, DNA connected Reece to the murder of Tiffany Johnston.
According to Assistant Public Defender Jason Benedict, Reece confessed to the Texas murders, but only because a Texas Ranger allegedly told Reece that doing so would spare him the death penalty.
Hoping to avoid execution, Reece led authorities to the bodies of Cox and Cain in horse pastures in separate counties in 2016.
The parents of Cain were not in court in Galveston on Wednesday for Reece’s conviction and sentencing; according to KPRC, they’d stepped away from the public spotlight in recent years. Smither's mother, did appear and made a statement thanking Reece for his confessions and extending forgiveness for the murder of her daughter, Laura, according to the Houston Chronicle.
“We all sin,” said Smither. “We all make mistakes. But then we must make things right. Please keep telling the truth, Bill.”
Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady prosecuted Reece for the murders of Smither and Cain.
“Today brings an end to 25 years of uncertainty for everyone affected by the murders of Laura Smither and Jessica Cain,” said Roady. “It’s true that no amount of punishment could heal the wounds suffered by their families and communities who love them. But these convictions will help ensure that their murderer will die in prison, where he belongs.”
Cox’s mother, Jan Bynum, was also present in the Brazoria County courtroom where Reece was sentenced.
“I am just relieved that now the official record will show he was found guilty and convicted of taking my daughter away from us,” said Bynum.
Cox’s daughter, Alexis Bynum, was only 19 months old when her mother disappeared. She also spoke after Reece’s sentencing.
“At the end of the day, we’re able to shut the chapter on this part of it and not have to worry about him hurting anyone else,” she said.
Reece has been housed at the Friendswood Jail in Texas since being extradited from Oklahoma in March and will soon be sent to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, KTRK-TV reported. A spokesperson said Reece would be unable to appeal his Texas convictions and that Texas and Oklahoma officials have yet to iron out when or if he will be returned to Oklahoma to face the death penalty or remain in Texas to serve the remainder of his kidnapping sentence and/or his life sentences.
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