Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

March 9, 2013

'I'm ready to die.'

LAST INTERVIEW: From Death Row, convicted capital murderer Richard Aaron Cobb of Cherokee County expresses remorse and disappointment for his crimes and his life.

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

LIVINGSTON —

Time is running out for Richard Aaron Cobb, scheduled to be executed April 25 for the Sept. 2002 shooting death of a mentally-challenged Rusk convenience store customer.

Cobb and co-defendant Beunka Adams, 29, were on the tail end of a two-week robbing spree when they kidnapped Kenneth Vandever, 24, and two female clerks and took them to a Cherokee County field. There, they sexually assaulted at least one of the women, forced all three to kneel on the ground, and shot them all from behind.

Vandever was killed. The two women were left for dead in the field and survived. One of them fled to a nearby home to get help.

Cobb, who was subsequently convicted of capital murder and sentenced to lethal injection in January 2004, will die almost exactly a year after co-defendant Adams was executed.

The convicted capital murderer will turn 29 next month, shortly before he is executed. He been on death row for a decade and has all but exhausted his appeals.

“There's really nothing left to do,” Cobb said during a recent jailhouse interview from Death Row in Livingston. “ … I accept it, you know what I mean? For what it is. There's no getting away from it. At the same time I don't want to die, but I'm ready to die.”

A videotape of this interview will be posted soon to the Jacksonville Daily Progress webpage.

On advice from an attorney, Cobb declined to address specifics in the rape and murder.

“It was the biggest mistake of my life,” Cobb said.

Cobb is no longer the young man he was when he was sent away. His hair is gone, shaved off, and he has the wear and tear of a Death Row decade stamped squarely on his face.

During the interview, Cobb appeared amicable – despite a growing reputation among Death Row guards as a troublemaker. At one point, Cobb apparently managed to sneak a cell phone into jail – a huge infraction.

The day of his interview, Cobb initially refused to speak to a reporter, then changed his mind, later explaining, “I woke up in a bad mood.”

Cobb said there's a lot he wishes he could have done before he was sent to Death Row.

“Looking back, I never really had a life,” Cobb said. “Whenever I thought I did, that got taken away from me. At the time same it (execution) will be somewhat of a relief. I won't be in prison anymore or in captivity in this repressive atmosphere.”

Elmer Beckworth, former Cherokee County District Attorney who prosecuted Cobb – Beckworth is now an Angelina County prosecutor – doesn't have a lot of sympathy for the man.

“The nature of his crime was horrible,” Beckworth said. “Kidnapping, aggravated robbery, sexual assault, shooting three people and leaving two of them for dead. Richard Cobb is extremely dangerous.”

The capital murder was committed by Cobb and his codefendant as part of a spree that included two other aggravated robberies during a two week period, the former DA said.

“The spree was in the past couple of weeks, but this had been going on for years,” Beckworth said.

Cobb contended in court that he killed Vandever, but Adams shot the two women. In his trial testimony, Cobb claimed he was afraid of the victims and had been coerced into committing the crime.

Despite Cobb's claims of manipulation on the part of Adams, he nonetheless became extremely violent with Cherokee County Sheriff's deputies and Jacksonville Police when they arrested him in Jacksonville, Beckworth said.

Beckworth said he hopes Cobb's execution will bring peace to his victims,

“Once it's complete, justice will be done in this case,” Beckworth said. “There is a lot of debate over the death penalty … but I think in Cobb's case, justice will definitely be served.”

Attempts to contact the father of the slain victim were not successful. But Donald Vandever, the father of the slain man, told the Associated Press after Adams' execution that it changes nothing.

“As far as I'm concerned, it was way too easy on him,” Donald Vendever told the AP.

Likewise, the two female victims, who are not being identified because of the sexual assault, could not be reached for comment.

One of them, who still has painful injuries from being shot, told the AP she granted Adams forgiveness.

“But he had to pay the consequences,” she said.

The woman's mother told the Associated Press an apology will never erase the damage.

“It's not going to fix the hole in her back,” she told the AP. The mother was referring to her daughter's wound from the shooting.

Meanwhile, Cobb said he waits for execution in his small cell on death row with very meager supplies – an AM/FM radio and any publications he can get his hands on. Since his execution date was set, he has received a flurry of letters.

Although Cobb has no last appeals prepared in his case, he said his attorney is trying for a stay.

Cobb remembered when he heard his co-defendant, more of a colleague than a close friend, had been executed.

“For me, this is rather sad, you know?” Cobb said. “Another person being killed, being executed by the state. Sort of a long-term, long-reaching effect of everything that happened. Generating waves of, you know, I guess violence. Long term.”

While in captivity, Cobb still has some decisions to make. He has to decide if he will allow his family to attend his execution. Texas Death Row does not offer its prisoners a “last meal” anymore.

“I kind of have a feeling I'm not going to be thinking about the food very much,” he said.

Cobb, who said he was adopted, indicated he also is in the process of communicating with his birth mother, whom he has never met. He said he hopes she will come visit him before the execution.

He said he grew up in Jacksonville and even attended high school there for a short time before moving to Rusk and attending high school there. He dropped out halfway through his senior year, he said.

In and out of jail as a youth, Cobb said he disqualified himself from fulfilling a dream of joining the military because of his felony convictions.

At the time of his conviction, Cobb had been working as a temp for a local firm, performing labor tasks in the area.

Cobb said every day he spends on Death Row is grimmer than the next. Every morning he wakes up and thinks, “Wow. How great it is to wake up in the cold reality of this jail again,” he said.

He has many regrets.

“Constantly,” Cobb said. “You survey ever single mistake you've ever made over and over again. It doesn't stop. Every day. There's regret in the water. Regret every time you look in the mirror. That's just part of life. There's no escaping it.”

He looks back at the last year of his life prior to prison with guilt and regret.

“The damage, the regret, the remorse,” he said. “I wish I could go back and make this never have happened. Just change it all.”

Cobb said he hopes his victims have been able to heal over the years.

“I hope they have found some ability to heal and, you know, deal with the anger and hatred directed at me,” he said. “I hope it has been able to resolve itself over the years.”

Adams, who was 19 when he and Cobb committed the crime, also expressed remorse to his victims as he was executed. Adams offered his love to his family and, like Cobb, asked those witnessing his execution to avoid letting any hate they had for him consume them.

Many readers who read about Adams' execution in the Huffington Post indicated they tire of morality statements expressed by killers just before they are executed.

“I hate when these criminals have the gall to try to lecture us about right and wrong,” one Huffington Post reader wrote. “We all already know killing is wrong, which is why it wasn't our a#@ strapped to the gurney.”