OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – After eight days of testimony, more than 20 witnesses, and over 100 items of evidence at the Oklahoma County Courthouse, a jury found William Lewis Reece guilty of 1st degree murder for 19-year-old Tiffany Johnston’s 1997 murder.
During the nearly two-week trial, the jury listened and watched dozens of recorded interviews and confessions of Reece recounting what led up to Johnston’s death and the murders of three other young women in Texas.
Family and friends sat on the front row, learning what their loved ones went through.
“She was always the tough one,” said friend Jenni McEachern.
“I’ve had moments where you just felt yourself trembling inside,” said Johnston’s cousin and best friend Misty Witt.
During the confessions, Reece said on July 26th, 1997 an oil filter came loose in his white dually pickup and sprayed grease all over his truck and horse trailer.
The 61-year-old said he pulled into the Sunshine Carwash in Bethany near Northwest 23rd and Council.
Reece said while he was spraying down the vehicle and trailer, Johnston confronted him accusing him of spraying her with water.
Insults led into a physical fight in which Reece threw Johnston in his truck, unsnapped her cutoff jean overalls, and raped her.
When he turned to leave, Reece said Johnston grabbed a horse shoe and hit him in the back of the head.
Reece said that sent him over the edge and he strangled her with his hands then a rope used to lead horses.
He then drove to a Canadian County and dumped her body face down in a field of tall grass. Johnston’s body was found the next day.
The Medical Examiner testified she believed Johnston had been raped and strangled. DNA was taken and sealed into evidence.
Later, Reece confessed he learned Johnston was his mother’s best friend’s daughter that he never met, despite knowing her mother, father, and older sister.
After a lengthy search for a suspect came to a dead end, the case went cold.
The OSBI testified investigators tested the DNA found at the scene, but pieces of the DNA puzzle decayed over the years. Later, Reece voluntarily gave a Texas Ranger a swab of his DNA to test while he was serving a 60-year sentence for kidnapping and assaulting another woman.
Calling card evidence later obtained also placed Reece near the area of her body around the time she vanished.
On Friday, the jury was asked to decide if the state proved Reece killed Johnston unlawfully and caused by malice and forethought.
To come to that conclusion, the state asked the jury to consider his multiple previous rape and assault convictions prior to Johnston’s death, the three other murders Reece is linked to in Texas, and his taped confessions.
Prosecutors explained to the jury, the confessions alone would not do the job. Jurors needed to think about the numerous evidence presented during the trial backing up Reece’s confessions.
Reece’s defense attorneys told the jury to decide if their client was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They argued key witness testimonies may’ve been influenced by pictures on the news or influenced by line-ups by investigators.
The defense also pointed out the DNA found on Johnston not perfectly matching with Reece’s sample.
DNA analysts previously testified the DNA found on Johnston deteriorated over the years. Key pieces of the DNA puzzle that were still intact matched with Reece’s sample.
The victim’s family heard the verdict after years of waiting for justice.
“For me personally, I can’t carry that heavy load of hate,” said Witt. “So [Reece is] there because he is the suspect in this. Again, I won’t let it faze me. He won’t see it faze me.”
Because this is a death-penalty trial, even more testimony lies ahead for the jury to decide of Reece will live or die for these crimes. Phase two of the trial starts back up June 1st at 9 a.m.