Death Watch: Heat of the Moment

Coy Wesbrook's mental deficiencies make his pending execution a "travesty," claims his lawyer

Death Watch: Heat of the Moment

Coy Wesbrook was 39 years old when he killed his ex-wife Gloria Coons and four of her friends at Coons' home just east of Houston. He'd gone there Nov. 13, 1997, thinking that he and Coons could discuss getting back together. Instead, he was greeted by Coons' friends: three men and a woman. Despite the apparent change of plans, Wesbrook came inside.

According to various testimonies, the situation at Coons' house was a volatile one. All six people had been drinking, and Wes­brook came to realize that Coons had been sexually involved with two of the men present. Angry, he decided to go home. Before he made it to his truck, one of the men grabbed his keys and ran back into the house. Wesbrook went to his truck, which was unlocked, and grabbed a rifle. He came back inside where, he said – and he is the only survivor of that night – he quickly became the target of the group's jokes. Someone threw a beer at him, he said, and "the rifle went off." He shot and killed all five, then waited outside for authorities to show up.

At trial, Harris County prosecutors were able to point to a number of instances in which Wesbrook had proven violent in the past, or expressed an interest in having his first wife Brenda Williams and her husband killed. After a week of sentencing hearings, Wesbrook was sent to death row.

Since his conviction, his attorney Don Vernay has focused on the spur-of-the-moment nature of the shootings, and how that fits in the context of Wesbrook's lifelong mental deficiencies. Wesbrook dropped out of junior high and had trouble keeping any job. Both of his marriages ended quickly. Even the fact that he waited outside for police, Vernay wrote in a clemency petition to Gov. Greg Abbott this February, points to a man who "now stands to lose his life for one impulsively tragic act." Vernay has also tried to argue in a series of filings that the state improperly planted an informant in Wes­brook's jail cell to obtain his confessions about his desire to kill Williams.

Both claims were rejected at the state and federal level until April 2011, when the State Board of Examiners of Psychologists issued a reprimand to Dr. George Denkow­ski, the psychologist who evaluated Wes­brook (and 13 other death row inmates) to determine their mental capacity. The board determined Denkowski to be completely inept at the job of evaluating the intellectual capabilities of death row inmates. Rather than face harsher penalties, Denkowski resigned. In light of this, the Court of Criminal Appeals sent Wesbrook's case back to trial court in Harris County, which in 2014 ruled Wesbrook mentally fit for execution. The case passed through the CCA again last January. On Monday, Vernay told the Chronicle that Wesbrook currently has no pending filings. "This execution is a travesty," he said.

Now 58, Wesbrook is expected on the execution gurney Wed., March 9. He'll be the fourth Texan executed this year, and the 535th since the state's reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.

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Coy Wesbrook, death penalty, Harris County

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