Texas man on death row pleads guilty in 3 cold-case killings

Jun 29, 2022, 2:39 AM | Updated: 3:35 pm
Gay Smither receives a hug from Galveston County Sheriff's Office Lt. Tommy Hansen as she and her h...

Gay Smither receives a hug from Galveston County Sheriff's Office Lt. Tommy Hansen as she and her husband, Bob, right, were in Judge Jared Robinson's 405th District Court in Galveston, Texas, Wednesday, June 29, 2022, for William Reece to plead guilty in the 1997 death of their daughter Laura Kate Smither and Jessica Cain. (Jennifer Reynolds/The Galveston County Daily News via AP)

(Jennifer Reynolds/The Galveston County Daily News via AP)

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — A man already sentenced to death for a cold-case killing in Oklahoma pleaded guilty to murder Wednesday in the deaths of three girls whose disappearances in Texas also went unsolved for decades.

William Reece, 62, pleaded guilty in a courtroom in Galveston in the 1997 killings of 12-year-old Laura Smither of Friendswood and 17-year-old Jessica Cain of Tiki Island. He then pleaded guilty in nearby Angleton later Wednesday to murder in the disappearance and death of 20-year-old Kelli Cox of Denton. He was sentenced to life in prison in each case.

Reece was serving a 60-year prison sentence for a 1998 Texas kidnapping in 2016 when he began cooperating with investigations of the other cases.

Smither failed to return from a morning jog in Friendswood in April 1997. Her remains were found more than two weeks later about 30 miles (50 kilometers) away in a retention pond near Pasadena, a Houston suburb.

Cain had been missing since August 1997, when her abandoned car was found on Interstate 45 near Tiki Island, a community across from Galveston Island. In April 2016, Reece led investigators to Cain’s remains in a pasture on the southern fringe of Houston.

Also exhumed from that site were the remains of Cox, a University of North Texas student who was last seen in Denton in 1997. Reece is awaiting trial in Brazoria County on a capital murder charge in Cox’s death.

He was sentenced to death last year for the 1997 killing of 19-year-old Tiffany Johnson of Oklahoma City.

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Texas man on death row pleads guilty in 3 cold-case killings