Oklahoma to seek death penalty against William Reese

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter
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GALVESTON, Texas - Officials with the Galveston District Attorney’s Office told KPRC2 that Oklahoma will seek the death penalty against William Lewis Reece.

He is the man linked to at least four murders, including the murders of Laura Smither, 12, from Friendswood and Jessica Cain, 17, from Tiki Island.

Reece, 57, has long been the prime suspect in the killings.

Smither disappeared in April 1997 while jogging near her Friendswood home. Her body was discovered 17 days later in a retention pond near Pasadena.

Cain disappeared in August 1997 while driving to her home in Tiki Island. Her truck was found abandoned on the side of I-45 inside the city limits of La Marque.

Cain’s body was not found until March, when Reece led detectives to the spot where he buried the teen in a field off East Orem Drive at Martindale Road in southeast Houston.

Following Oklahoma’s trial for the 1997 murder of Tiffany Johnston, Reece will be brought back to Galveston County to face trial for the murders of Laura Smither and Jessica Cain.

Charges are also pending against Reece in the murder of Kelli Ann Cox, from Denton.

Reece remains the only suspect in the kidnapping and death of Cox, who was 20 years old at the time of her disappearance from the city of Denton.

Reece led detectives to Cox’s body last April. The young mother was buried in a field off Highway 288 near the town of Angleton.

Before Cain and Cox were discovered, Reece was indicted in September 2015 in Oklahoma County for the 1997 kidnapping and murder of 19-year-old Tiffany Johnston. The newlywed was abducted from a car wash in July 1997 and her body was found in a field the next day.

Reece is serving a 60-year prison sentence for the 1997 kidnapping of Sandra Sapaugh in Webster. Sapaugh escaped Reece by jumping out of his moving truck and later picked him out of a lineup.

In February, Reece was temporarily released from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to the custody of officials in Galveston County to help search for Cain and Cox.

Reece’s attorney, Anthony Osso, has said that Reece was cooperating with investigators and is “willing to accept responsibility” for all the murders.

Reece was transferred to Oklahoma in July to face trial for Johnston’s murder. After the trial, Reece will be returned to Texas to finish his prison sentence and face punishment for the Smither and Cain murders.

Officials in Denton County have not yet filed charges against Reece in Cox’s murder.

Reece had hoped to cut a deal that would remove the possibility of the death penalty in exchange for his confessions. Galveston County officials agreed to the request.

However, Osso said Reece is in poor health and likely to die long before he completes his sentence on the kidnapping charge. State records show that Reece will complete that sentence in 2057.

A timeline of the developments in the story:

  • April 3, 1997: Laura Smither disappears from Friendswood
  • April 20, 1997: Smither's body found near Pasadena
  • July 15, 1997: Kelli Ann Cox disappears from Denton
  • July 26, 1997: Tiffany Johnston disappears from outside Oklahoma City
  • July 27, 1997: Johnston's body found
  • Aug. 17, 1997: Jessica Cain disappears from La Marque
  • Sept. 18, 1997: Sandra Sapaugh kidnapped in Webster, but escapes
  • May 11, 1998: William Reece convicted of kidnapping Sapaugh and sentenced to 60 years
  • Sept. 21, 2015: Reece charged in Oklahoma City with murdering and kidnapping Johnston
  • Feb. 16, 2016: Reece temporarily released from TDCJ to custody of Galveston County officials
  • Feb. 24, 2016: Search for Cain begins in field off East Orem
  • March 18, 2016: Human remains found
  • March 28, 2016: Search for Cox begins in field off 288 in Brazoria County
  • April 3, 2016: Human remains found
  • April 11, 2016: Remains identified as Cox by University of North Texas
  • April 15, 2016: Remains identified as Cain by medical examiner
  • July 25, 2016: Reece transferred to Oklahoma to faces charges in Johnston case
  • Sept. 1, 2016: Galveston County grand jury empaneled to hear evidence in Cain and Smither cases

 

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