Despite Prosecutor's Deal With Snitch, Cobb Loses Appeals

Despite prosecutor's deal with snitch, Cobb loses appeals

Richard Cobb
Richard Cobb

Richard Cobb was just 18 when he and a friend, 19-year-old Beunka Adams, robbed the B-D-J's convenience store in Rusk, taking two female clerks and a customer hostage. The pair drove the three hostages to a nearby field known as the "pea patch," raped one of the clerks, and tied up all three. Cobb shot the customer, Kenneth Vandever, killing him; either Cobb or Adams – it remains unclear which – shot each of the clerks. Both were wounded, faked death, and ultimately survived. The murderous pair was turned in to police by Adams' cousin a day after the crime; the state sought, and obtained, a death sentence for each defendant.

On April 25 the state intends to execute Cobb – almost a year to the day after it carried out the death sentence on his accomplice, Adams. If the schedule remains on track, Cobb would be the 497th inmate put to death in Texas since 1982.

Cobb has appealed his sentence, arguing in part that prosecutors violated their duty to turn over to his defense evidence that could have been used during the punishment phase of his trial to impeach a jailhouse witness. William Thomsen testified that while in jail awaiting trial Cobb bragged about his crimes, said he would commit additional crimes if he could, that he likely wouldn't have been caught if he'd killed the two clerks, and that he got "like a rush" from shooting Vandever. (In a courtroom outburst, Cobb denied saying that.) Thomsen also testified that he was not given any deal or done any favors by the state in exchange for his testimony.

As it happened, that wasn't entirely accurate: In January 2003, the prosecutor, Elmer Beckworth, penned a short letter to Thom­sen's parole officer, advising that he would not seek to prosecute Thomsen on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The letter had been put into Adams' file, but not Cobb's; it was turned over a day before closing arguments, but the defense chose not to use it, a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a May 2012 opinion. Two months after Cobb was convicted and sentenced to death in 2004, a prosecutor reviewing Adams' file found another letter, this one from Thomsen, written in 2002, reminding Beckworth that during a meeting a week earlier the prosecutor had "agreed to completely clear" his pending weapons charge and to have a parole hold lifted so that Thom­sen could be released; in the letter Thomsen also offers additional details about what Cobb told him about the robbery and murder. Cobb then appealed, citing the failure of prosecutors to turn over this second letter. But each of Cobb's appeals has been denied, and on Feb. 21 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider the case.

Scheduled Executions

April 24: Elroy Chester (Jefferson County)

April 25: Richard Cobb (Cherokee County

May 7: Carroll Parr (McLennan County

May 15: Jefferey Williams (Harris County

May 21: Robert Pruett (Bee County

June 26: Kimberly McCarthy* (Dallas County

July 10: Rigoberto Avila* (El Paso County

July 16: John Quintanilla (Victoria County

July 18: Vaughn Ross (Lubbock County

July 31: Douglas Feldman (Dallas County

*Execution previously rescheduled for additional proceedings and/or case review

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Death Watch, death penalty, capital punishment, Kenneth Vandever, Beunka Adams, Richard Cobb, Brady material, Brady violation, courts, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. Supreme Court, Rick Perry

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