Convicting A Serial Killer, Part 2: Jurors Speak Out

Thursday, August 19th 2021, 9:49 pm

Admitted serial killer William Reece was formally sentenced to death Thursday.

Oklahoma County District Judge Susan Stallings read the death warrant before a courtroom packed with his victims' loved ones.

Also in attendance, some of the jurors who recommended Oklahoma’s harshest punishment.

In June, the Oklahoma County jury convicted Reece and recommended he be executed.

The death sentence capped a lengthy and emotionally draining trial - three weeks of gripping testimony, graphic autopsy photos, and grainy confession tapes in the 1997 murders of four women in Oklahoma and Texas.

"It got pretty emotional...most of us cried because you have someone's life in your hands," said Jacqueline Fields.

Fields was the foreperson during Reece's trial. She said they heard from everyone in the case except the defendant himself.

The jurors instead listened to a series of interviews in which Reece confessed to attacking young women and then killing them to avoid prison.

"The evidence was pretty damning," said Fields.

The jury took only an hour and 45 minutes to choose death as his punishment for one of the crimes – the 1997 murder of 19-year-old Tiffany Johnston in Bethany.

Read: Man Found Guilty In 1997 Murder Of Oklahoma Woman

The teen, who had vanished from the Sunshine Car Wash, was raped and strangled in 1997. Investigators used DNA evidence to link him to the killing nearly two decades after the crime.

Reece is also accused in the 1997 murders of 20-year-old Kelli Cox of Denton, TX, 17-year-old Jessica Cain of Texas City, TX and 12-year-old Laura Smither of Friendswood, TX. 

All of the crimes happened shortly after Reece was released from an Oklahoma prison for a 1986 rape and kidnapping.

The murder charges in Texas are pending. 

Although the recent conviction was only for the abduction, rape, and murder of Johnston, the jury hopes the verdict delivers some form of justice to all of the victims.

"I want him to see all of the jurors faces because I think it is important that he knows a jury of his peers found him guilty and gave him the death penalty," said Terri Spinks, Juror 1.

Looking for some sign that Reece truly felt the weight of the sentence, the jurors instead watched the defendant twiddle his thumbs as their unanimous decision was read aloud by Oklahoma County District Judge Susan Stallings in June 2021.

"We would look over and you know he was still like stone faced," McFadden explained.

The jurors also described the defendant as detached during the trial, but apparently disturbed.

Reece, they said, became animated at inappropriate moments and in inappropriate ways.

"When one of his victims was on the stand and when she spoke about some of the things that he did to her he was actually licking his fingers," said Fields.

She said they thought Reece was trying to intimidate his living victims as they testified. Most agreed.

"It was almost like he was trying to re-live the crimes as he looked at the photographs," McFadden said. "It was really disturbing.”

It was even more traumatic for the victims' families who were sitting in the gallery of the courtroom.

"He made a lot of faces," explained Tiffany Johnston’s mother Kathy Dobry.  

It was often difficult for her to be in the same room as Reece.

“When they were showing Tiffany's body of what he did it was like he was getting off on it especially given his smirky smiles," said Dobry.

The jurors also noticed his behavior toward the families.

"I was disgusted with him at that time, and tried not to look at him," said Spinks.

As put off by Reece's mannerisms as they were the jurors said they made sure to keep an open mind in reviewing the evidence -- including the shocking admissions straight from Reece's mouth.

"We went through it step by step and wanted to make sure that we were making the best decision based on the evidence and the testimonies that we were given," said Fields.

In the confession, Reece claimed he wanted to tell the truth to help his victims' families get closure.

His own defense attorney told the jury he confessed to avoid the death penalty.

But prosecutors warned he'd never been honest about the motive -- and jurors agreed.

Whatever his motive, the confession tapes are what jurors said ultimately sealed his fate.

"The evidence was overwhelming and he gave it to us," Fields explained. "It was obvious he was guilty."

And the evidence, they said, proved Reece stalked his victims to satisfy his sexual needs, then killed most of them to avoid prison.

"He is right where he needs to be," said McFadden.

McFadden said everyone felt he should spend his final days under lock and key in the state penitentiary.

In Oklahoma, a death row inmate spends 22 hours a day in their prison cell.

"He shouldn't get the choice on how he lives out the rest of his life because he didn’t give that to Tiffany or the other girls," said Spinks.

The jurors called the trial a life-altering experience and felt compelled to attend Reece's formal sentencing Thursday.

Many of them vowed to see it through to the end in what is expected to be a lengthy process

An automatic appeal is given to everyone sentenced to death in Oklahoma.

Reece will now head to the state penitentiary in McAlester to live out the rest of his days on Oklahoma's death row.

Oklahoma County Prosecutors Jimmy Harmon and Ryan Stephenson issued a joint statement in response to the proceedings saying:

”A death sentence is never something to celebrate, but it is an appropriate and just punishment for the brutal kidnapping, rape, and murder of Tiffany Johnston. We hope that Tiffany’s family, along with the families of Laura Smither, Kelli Cox, and Jessica Cain, can find some measure of justice in the jury’s verdict.”

Related: Convicting A Serial Killer, Part 1