William Reece pleads guilty to murders of 3 young women 25 years after their deaths

Jeff Ehling Image
Thursday, June 30, 2022
Serial killer pleads guilty to 2 more murders in Galveston Co.
It's been a long 25 years for the victims' families, and one they sometimes feared would never come.

GALVESTON COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- Convicted serial killer William Reece pleaded guilty in two counties Wednesday for the murder of three young woman 25 years ago.

Wednesday morning, Reece, dressed in jeans and a polo shirt and using a walker, was in a Galveston County courtroom where he entered a guilty plea for the murders of 12-year-old Laura Smither and 17-year-old Jessica Cain. He kidnapped and killed them months apart in 1997. Smither's family was also in the courtroom.

In an emotional victim impact statement, Laura's mother, Gay Smither, thanked Reece for leading law enforcement to the remains of Cain and Kelli Cox in 2016 in order to avoid the death penalty in Texas. Laura's body was found soon after her murder.

"He did not have to lead law enforcement to Jessica (Cain) and Kelli's (Cox) remains. Those girls could still be missing, so I wanted to thank him for doing the right thing," Smither told reporters after the hearing. She also talked about why she forgave him.

"I chose forgiveness because I didn't want to live in the prison of anger anymore," she said during her victim impact statement.

Reece was already sentenced to death in Oklahoma for killing 19-year-old Tiffany Johnston, but authorities said it was always part of the plan to bring him back to Texas for the murders of Laura and Jessica Cain.

The 62-year-old was sentenced to two life sentences.

Tracking the Devil: The William Reece confessions

Laura Smither, Jessica Cain, Kelli Cox and Tiffany Johnston vanished in 1997. For almost two decades, their families searched for answers - until suspected serial killer William Reece was finally charged in their murders. Hear Reece's chilling confessions and learn about the families' long path to justice in the ABC13 Original 'Tracking the Devil'.

Then it was onto the Brazoria County Courthouse in Angleton for an afternoon hearing, where Reece pleaded guilty to the murder of Cox and received a third life sentence. Cox was a 20-year-old college student at the University of North Texas who he kidnapped in July 1997. She had a 19-month-old daughter, Alexis.

"Seeing him, for me reminds me, I made him out to be something he wasn't. Don't get me wrong, he was a bad man, but he is just a man," Alexis Bynum said Wednesday afternoon.

Bynum and Cox's mother, Jan Bynum, also gave victim impact statements and had to fight back tears. Reece was hesitant to make eye contact.

"I was like, 'Look at me,'" said Jan Bynum. "'Look at me,' and he did. I'm like, 'I'm talking to you because this all falls on your shoulders. You did all this on your own free volition.'"

Reece is currently facing the death penalty in Oklahoma for Johnston's murder, also in 1997. Before that, he was serving a 60-year sentence in Texas for rape and kidnapping. He has been housed in the Friendswood jail since March. He will soon be returned to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. A spokesperson told ABC13 that they will work with Oklahoma to determine where Reece will serve out his sentence. He cannot appeal these Texas convictions.

"It certainly isn't going to bring these girls back but it will make sure William Reece dies in prison," said Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady.

Smither and Bynum praised law enforcement, including the Friendswood Police Department and Texas Rangers, for their persistence in pursuing Reece for 25 years.