orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

April 27, 2013

Man put to death for Texas store abduction slaying

Associated Press
The Orange Leader

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — 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.

"Life is death, death is life. I hope that someday this absurdity that humanity has come to will come to an end," Cobb said when asked if he had any last words. "Life is too short. I hope anyone that has negative energy towards me will resolve that.

"Life is too short to harbor feelings of hatred and anger. That's it, warden."

But that wasn't it.

Just before the lethal drug took effect and at the conclusion of his statement, Cobb twisted his head back, raised it off a pillow placed on the gurney and then toward the warden standing behind him.

"Wow!" the inmate exclaimed in a loud voice. "That is great. That is awesome! Thank you, warden! Thank you (expletive) warden!"

His head fell back on the pillow, and his neck twisted at an odd angle, with his mouth and eyes open.

He remained that way for some 15 minutes before a physician entered the death chamber to examine him and pronounce him dead at 6:27 p.m. CDT. Sixteen minutes had passed since the drug had been injected.

The father, stepmother and stepbrother of the man shot and killed by Cobb were among the witnesses. Also in the viewing area was one of the women who was shot and attacked but survived to testify against Cobb.

"I think justice was served but it doesn't change anything to speak of," the slain man's father, Don Vandever, said after watching Cobb die. "I do think the justice system needs to be more of a deterrent.

"All he did was go to sleep. That's it."

Nikki Daniels, 29, who was raped and shot during the 2002 attack but survived to testify against Cobb, said, "I thought he was going to be remorseful, I thought he was going to be apologetic, was hoping that he was going to address me.

"I saw the same evil person I saw 11 years ago. ... He definitely showed his true colors."

The Associated Press generally does not name victims of sexual assault but Daniels agreed to be identified.

Daniels said Cobb's punishment in the end "was far too easy."

About two hours before the lethal injection, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Cobb to be executed, rejecting a last-day appeal. It was Texas' fourth execution this year.

On Sept. 2, 2002, Kenneth 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.

Cobb was 18 at the time of the attack, on probation for auto theft and a high school dropout. Cobb and his partner, Beunka 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 AP 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.