By MICHAEL GRACZYK, Associated Press
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A Texas inmate was executed Thursday evening for fatally shooting one of three people he and a partner abducted during a convenience store robbery nearly 11 years ago.
Richard Cobb, 29, didn't deny using a 20-gauge shotgun to kill Kenneth Vandever in an East Texas field where two women also were shot and one was raped. He was convicted of capital murder.
He was pronounced dead 16 minutes after the lethal drug was injected.
The U.S. Supreme Court about two hours earlier cleared the way for the execution, the fourth this year in Texas, when it rejected an appeal from Cobb.
His lawyers from the University of Houston-based Texas Innocence Network contended a prison expert at Cobb's trial in 2004 falsely described how much freedom the convicted Cobb could expect if Cherokee County jurors gave him life in prison rather than a death sentence.
Cobb's attorneys argued that in at least four other death row cases with similar testimony, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered reviews of those punishments.
In a brief order last week, the state court refused Cobb's appeal as being filed improperly and dismissed it without considering the merits of the claim. The Supreme Court justices needed to address whether Cobb's equal protection or due process rights were violated, Cobb's attorneys said.
The high court, in a brief order, refused.
State lawyers had argued the state court's ruling was legally correct and that the expert testimony was factually and procedurally different from the other cases cited, as well as accurate in Cobb's trial.
With Cobb's execution imminent, the appeal was "nothing more than a meritless attempt to postpone his execution," Tomee Heining, an assistant state attorney general told the high court late Wednesday.
On Sept. 2, 2002, Vandever and the two women were abducted from a store in Rusk, about 120 miles southeast of Dallas, and taken to a field about 10 miles away. All three were shot and left for dead. Vandever, 37, died, but the women managed to get help and later testified against Cobb and his partner, Beunka Adams.
Cobb was 18 at the time of the attack, on probation for auto theft and a high school dropout. Cobb and Adams were arrested in Jacksonville, about 25 miles away, the day after the crime. It was the latest in a series of robberies tied to them.
Cobb testified at his trial he began using drugs at age 12 and turned to robbery to pay off a drug debt.
Adams was executed a year ago this week for his participation in the slaying.
Vandever had frequented the store in Rusk and would do things like take out the trash. An auto accident had left him with the mental capacity of a child.
Cobb's trial attorneys unsuccessfully tried to show Adams forced Cobb to shoot Vandever by threatening Cobb. The survivors of the attack said they never heard such threats, but heard Vandever plead that he needed his medication and scream when he was shot.
"Basically, it was an act of compulsion," Cobb said of the abductions and shootings. He described himself to The Associated Press shortly after arriving on death row in 2004 as "young, dumb and made a mistake."
"I'm guilty of the crime," he said.
He told the Jacksonville Daily Progress last month from prison he didn't want to die "but I'm ready for it."
At least 11 other Texas inmates have executions scheduled for the coming months, including three in May.
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