An interstate agreement from 2016, parents’ determination, and 25 years of constant police work helped bring William Reece back to Texas after he received a death sentence in Oklahoma.
All of that culminated in a pair of court hearings last Wednesday when Reece pleaded guilty to the 1997 murders of Laura Smither, Jessica Cain and Kelli Ann Cox.
“Laura, Jessica and Kelli all deserved their day in court,” said Laura’s mother, Gay Smither.
Those 10 words helped ensure Reece was brought back to Texas after he was convicted last summer of the the1997 murder of Tiffany Johnston near Oklahoma City. Reece was then given the death penalty, but by January of this year, Smither said she noticed he still had not been moved to death row from the county jail.
“2022 rolled around and he was still there, deep concerns set in,” said Smither.
Friendswood police chief Robert Wieners also started pushing for answers.
“This has always been about the families and the families’ need for a resolution to these cases,” said Wieners.
Wieners discovered the stumbling block was an agreement between Texas and Oklahoma signed in 2016. By then, Reece had been charged with Johnston’s murder, but he was brought back to Texas to lead police to where he buried Jessica Cain and Kelli Ann Cox. Smither’s body was found a few weeks after disappeared.
Wieners provided KPRC 2 a copy of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers involving Reece’s return to Texas after being charged with Johnston’s murder. A portion of the agreement reads Reece signed a waiver of extradition back to Oklahoma to “serve any sentence there imposed upon me, after completion of my term of imprisonment in this state.”
Court records show in 2016, Reece still had 41 years left on a 60-year kidnapping sentence. In 1997, Reece also kidnapped Sandra Sapaugh from a parking lot in Webster, but she escaped by jumping out of his truck as it barreled down the Gulf Freeway. Her unwavering testimony helped secure Reece’s conviction and explains why the murders stopped in 1997.
“The language was very specific about him having to return,” said Wieners.
Wieners said a Friendswood law firm also reviewed the detainer agreement and found a 1993 court case between the state of New York and Oklahoma, where a judge ruled one state’s death penalty does not automatically trump an interstate agreement calling for the return of a defendant.
“There was a frank discussion about the language of the detainer and the fact that he needed to come back,” said Wieners.
The judge who presided over Reece’s murder trial then signed an order on March 4 releasing Reece to the custody of Friendswood police. The order stipulated police had to take custody of Reece by March 14 or he would be automatically transferred to the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
By then Reece had already agreed to plead guilty to the 1997 murders of Laura, Jessica and Kelli and on Wednesday he kept his word. Reece was then sentenced to life in prison
“Absolute relief, it’s the one thing he didn’t change his story on,” said Smither.
Smither said what was not apparent in Wednesday’s hearings was the 25 years of constant police work spear-headed by Friendswood that finally led to Reece answering for his crimes.
“For 25 years, this department has truly cared about the girls,” said Smither. “They kept the families as the focus, they kept the girls as the focus and they did their job.”
While appreciative of Smither’s words, Wieners quickly points to the work done by Texas Rangers, several law enforcement agencies in Galveston County, as well as investigators in Oklahoma.
“I mean, there were multiple agencies and multiple organizations who contributed. I mean everybody’s role was essential,” said Wieners.
Reece is now back in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and TDCJ officials tell us within the next two weeks they’ll work out the details of when he may be sent back to Oklahoma.
“As long as he is locked up and never has the possibility to harm another human being, either place is ok,” said Smither.