NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - On March 17, 1998 64 -year- old Joe Collins returned from a nearby cafe with a take out dinner. The grandfather who lived alone never ate it. He was shot and then bludgeoned with a shotgun after he caught a group of burglars in his home.
"He takes care of his own. He takes care of his family," said Gary Collins, one of four sons the days following the murder.
Before he was killed, Collins shot a burglar in the leg. Prosecutors cut a deal with that burglar, and his testimony led to the conviction of Khristian Oliver. The defense by well known attorney Mike DeGeuirin wasn't enough to prevent a guilty verdict.
The sentencing, with death as one of the possibilities, was more difficult for the jury. Jurors even referenced a bible during the sentencing phase. The action launched multiple appeals going all the way to the Supreme Court.
Tim James was the prosecutor in Oliver's case. "The question becomes is consulting the Bible somehow tainting the verdict of the jury because you're referring to an outside source, in this case, the Bible," James explained. The U.S. Supreme court declared the Bible reference improper, but not unconstitutional. "It is an outside influence in some instances and could be abused, but in this case it was not and the evidence of guilt was so overwhelming," James said.
In the last decade, Joe Collins' family repeatedly wrote letters fighting attempts to get Oliver a life sentence. They want justice served now, just as they did a decade ago.
"The parts that can never be replaced. You know, I just feel this is the only verdict they could give and the only sentence they could give," said Joe Collins Jr the day the death sentence was handed down.
The family plans to witness their father's killer die. Only after that will they consider talking publicly about a day which changed their lives, and ended others.