Friday, April 19, 2013
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit described the facts of the crime as follows:
Cobb and Beunka Adams committed two armed robberies in August 2002. On the night of September 2, 2002, they committed a third. Armed with a shotgun, and wearing masks and gloves, they entered a convenience store known as BDJ’s. Nikki Ansley (Dement) and Candace Driver were working as clerks that night. Also present in the store was a frequent customer, Kenneth Vandever. Ansley and Driver were made to stand together behind the cash register. Cobb and Adams demanded money. Driver opened the cash register drawer. While Cobb held the shotgun, Adams grabbed the drawer and took all of the money. Vandever, the customer, began to walk out the front door, but was ordered to join Ansley and Driver behind the register.
Cobb and Adams then decided to take Ansley, Driver, and Vandever as hostages. Driver was ordered to surrender the keys to her Cadillac, which was parked outside, and the three hostages were forced into the vehicle. Adams drove to a remote, open pasture known as the pea patch. Everyone got out of the car, and Adams forced Driver and Vandever into the trunk while Cobb held the gun. Adams took Ansley into a wooded area and raped her. Cobb and Adams then told the three hostages that they could wait for a little while, and then leave, but soon Cobb and Adams changed their minds. After debating what to do, Cobb and Adams tied up the women hostages with their shirts and forced them to kneel by the vehicle. They began to walk away with Vandever, intending to allow him to come back later to untie Ansley and Driver. Soon they returned, however, and forced Vandever to sit by the other two victims.
After Vandever began to protest, Cobb shot him. Vandever fell forward, screaming that he had been shot. Either Cobb or Adams then shot Ansley and Driver. Ansley and Driver both fell forward as well, and pretended to be dead. Adams started kicking Ansley, and Cobb joined in. Cobb lifted Ansley up by her ponytail, and he and Adams put their lighters up to her face. After satisfying themselves that the three victims were dead, Adams and Cobb left the scene and went to the residence of Adams’s cousin.
Vandever died, but Ansley and Driver survived. After regaining consciousness, they managed to get to safety. Ansley sustained a shotgun wound to her left shoulder, numerous broken ribs, and a collapsed lung, which required her to spend almost two weeks in the hospital. After undergoing emergency surgery, she identified Cobb and Adams from a photo lineup. Driver, who suffered a gunshot wound to her lower lip, was able to identify Adams, but not Cobb, from a photo lineup while in the hospital. Adams’s cousin contacted the police and disclosed Cobb’s and Adams’s whereabouts. They were arrested at Adams’s cousin’s home on September 3, the day after Vandever’s murder. Adams surrendered, but Cobb resisted arrest and had to be subdued. Under questioning, Cobb confessed to shooting Vandever and to participating in the robbery and kidnaping.
During the guilt-determination phase of the trial, Cobb admitted to participating in the robbery and kidnaping and to shooting Vandever. He testified, however, that Adams pressured him into committing the murder, threatening to kill Cobb if he refused to take part in killing the three hostages. The [S]tate cast doubt on this portion of Cobb’s testimony by getting him to admit on cross-examination that he did not mention any coercion by Adams when he first confessed to the authorities. Moreover, the other surviving witnesses did not corroborate Cobb’s testimony that Adams threatened him.
The [S]tate also rebutted Cobb’s duress defense by calling William Elmer Thomsen to testify. Thomsen was incarcerated with Cobb at the Cherokee County Jail. Thomsen testified that, during several jailhouse conversations he had with Cobb at this time, Cobb extensively discussed Vandever’s murder as well as the robberies that he and Adams committed. Thomsen testified that Cobb thought armed robberies were the way to go. It’s fast, quick, easy money. According to Thomsen’s testimony, Cobb also told him that he and Adams had plans to rob a Whataburger in the near future, had they not been caught and arrested. Thomsen also testified that Cobb confided in him that he planned at his trial to blame the murder on Adams by testifying that Adams had threatened to kill him if he did not take part in shooting the hostages.
On cross-examination, the defense asked Thomsen whether he had received a deal from the [S]tate in exchange for his testimony. Thomsen avowed that he had not. He testified that when he contacted the district attorney to offer his testimony against Cobb, the charge he was facing for being a felon in possession of a firearm had already been dismissed. Thomsen was still in jail, however, for violating the terms of his probation for a prior offense. Although Thomsen insisted that he did not receive any benefit from the [S]tate for his testimony, he did concede that the district attorney’s office contacted his parole officer on his behalf.
On September 23, 2002, Cobb was indicted for capital murder.
Cobb was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death on January 23, 2004.
On Jan. 31, 2007, Cobb's conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
On Dec. 5, 2007, Cobb’s first application for state writ of habeas corpus was denied.
Cobb filed an Addendum to Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus after the deadline for filing an initial state writ application, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that it was a subsequent application and dismissed it as an abuse of the writ.
On Feb. 15, 20011, the district court denied Cobb’s federal petition for writ of habeas corpus.
On March 23, 2011, the district court granted a certificate of appealability (COA) on one claim pertaining to Brady v. Maryland, but denied all other requests for certificate of appealability.
On May 13, 2011, Cobb sought a certificate of appealability on three additional claims from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
On May 25, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of habeas relief.
On January 14, 2013, the Supreme Court denied certiorari review of the Fifth Circuit’s decision.
On April 17, 2013, Cobb filed in the trial court a second subsequent writ for habeas corpus.
On April 19, 2013, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed Cobb's successive application as an abuse of the writ.
On April 24, 2013, Cobb filed in the U.S. Supreme Court a petition for a writ of certiorari and an application for stay of execution.
On April 24, 2013, the state filed a brief in opposition to Cobb's petition for a writ of certiorari and application for stay of execution.
On April 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Cobb's petition for a writ of certiorari and an application for stay of execution.
Under Texas law, the rules of evidence prevent certain prior criminal acts from being presented to a jury during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial. However, once a defendant is found guilty, jurors are presented information about the defendant’s prior criminal conduct during the second phase of the trialwhich is when they determine the defendant’s punishment.
During the penalty phase of Cobb’s trial, the State presented the testimony of the chief of the Rusk Police Department regarding a judgment against Cobb for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, and attested to Cobb’s bad reputation as a law-abiding citizen.
The Rusk County assistant police chief echoed his chief’s evaluation of Cobb’s reputation as not being a peaceful, law-abiding citizen, and described Cobb’s burglary-of-a-building offense, which occurred one year prior to the Vandever murder.
Cobb admitted, in his confession to the Vandever murder, that he and Adams robbed two gas stationsalso with a shotgunthe month before the murder. A clerk from one of the two gas stations described the robbery of his station.
As a juvenile, Cobb, his brother, and a friend burglarized the weekend residence of a former Cobb family neighbor. The neighbor testified that he confronted the boys with a gun and Cobb dared him to shoot. The neighbor shot at Cobb’s feet and forced him onto the ground until Cobb’s mother and the police arrived.
Beunca Adams’s brother testified that Cobb used a knife to pry his way into his home one night.
Cobb’s juvenile probation officer testified that Cobb assaulted one of his boot camp supervisors, that he was not afraid of people in authority, that his mother had difficulty controlling him, and that his reputation as a law abiding citizen was bad. Also, Cobb would not follow the rules whether he was in boot camp or on probation, and that Cobb was not easily intimidated or influenced by others.
Finally, the jury heard the testimony of a psychologist, who opined that Cobb fit the profile of a sociopath, a person who did not care about the welfare of other people and whose condition would be incurable.
Cobb testified in his defense, admitting that he started using drugs at age twelve, and that he escalated from burglary to armed robbery because he was in debt to a drug dealer and needed money quickly.
For additional information and statistics, please access the Texas department of Criminal Justice website at www.tdcj.state.tx.us.