William Lewis Reece sentenced to life in prison for murders of Laura Smither, Jessica Cain and Kelli Ann Cox

HOUSTON – William Lewis Reece was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to the murders of Laura Smither, Jessica Cain and Kelli Ann Cox. All three were murdered in 1997.

“Twenty-five years is an awfully long time to be waiting for justice and there were number of years in there where we truly didn’t think we’d ever see this day,” said Laura’s mother, Gay Smither.

Reece first pleaded guilty to Cain and Smither’s murder in Galveston County before being shuttled to Brazoria County, where he pleaded guilty to Cox’s murder. Cox was kidnapped from a service station in Denton, killed and buried in a Brazoria County field.

“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 Kelli’s mother, Jan Bynum.

Smither and Bynum gave victim impact statements, telling Reece of the lives he stole and the pain he caused. Cox had a 19-month-old daughter when she disappeared. Alexis Bynum also told Reece how she spent years searching for her mother.

“At the end of the day we’re ale to shut the chapter on this part of it and not have to worry about him hurting anyone else,” said Alexis Bynum.

Prior to these guilty please, Reece was sentenced to die in 2021 for the murder of Tiffany Johnston near Oklahoma City. Johnston, a newlywed, was also murdered in 1997. Prior to his killing spree, Reece served ten years in prison for raping two women.

A previously filed extradition request saw Reece returned to Texas in March after his conviction in Oklahoma. Court documents read once Reece answers for his Texas crimes, Friendswood police have 5 business days to notify Oklahoma of when Reece will be returned to face a death sentence.

Officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice tell KPRC 2 Investigates Reece will first be sent to prison here while they work out the extradition paperwork.

In 2015, Oklahoma officials used DNA to link Reece to the murder of Johnston, and a calling card also put him in the area where she disappeared. After he was charged with her death, Reece looked to cut a deal and started talking about the Texas murders.

At the time of the confessions, Reece was serving a 60-year prison sentence in Texas after kidnapping Sandra Sapaugh from a parking lot in Webster. Sapaugh escaped by jumping out of Reece’s truck as he drove down I-45. Sapaugh was also kidnapped in 1997 and her testimony secured his conviction. Reece was sentenced to 50 years in prison in 1998, which explains why the murders stopped.

During her victim impact statement, Gay Smither thanked Reece for finally telling the truth and while she does not condone his actions, she said she did forgive him. Smither later explained forgiveness was necessary for her and her family to begin healing.

“I was in such a prison of anger before I came to forgiveness, forgiveness is very misunderstood,” said Smither. " I was in such a prison of anger and rage about what happened to our family. Nothing prepares a family to go through something like this.”

Jessica Cain’s parents did not attend the hearings and stopped making public statements regarding their daughter’s case several years ago.

Jessica Cain
Kelli Ann Cox
Tiffany Johnston


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About the Authors:

Reporter, family-oriented, sports fanatic, proud Houstonian.

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”