Texas is set to execute Billy Wardlow, who was 18 when he killed a man. Experts argue that’s too young for a death sentence.

After 25 years on death row, Billy Wardlow, aided by neuroscientists, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that at 18, he was too young to face Texas’ death penalty.      Texas Department of Criminal Justice
After 25 years on death row, Billy Wardlow, aided by neuroscientists, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that at 18, he was too young to face Texas’ death penalty. Texas Department of Criminal Justice

On Wednesday evening, Texas plans to execute Billy Joe Wardlow for a 1993 East Texas robbery and murder. His lawyers are hoping the swell of the coronavirus pandemic and Wardlow’s young age at the time of the crime will persuade the courts or the governor to stop it.

Wardlow was 18 when he killed 82-year-old Carl Cole in Cason. Wardlow shot Cole during an attempted robbery in which he said he had planned to steal Cole’s truck to leave the rural town and start a new life with his girlfriend.

Prosecutors argued Wardlow intentionally killed Cole, shooting him between the eyes. Wardlow said he hadn’t planned to fire the weapon and shot Cole during an unexpected struggle. After the killing, Wardlow and his girlfriend fled and were later arrested in South Dakota.

After 25 years on death row, Wardlow, aided by neuroscientists, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that at 18, he was too young to face Texas’ death penalty. Nearly 60 Texas lawmakers also informed the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which could recommend a delay to the execution, that they plan to take up the issue of age and the death penalty in the 2021 Legislature. But on Monday, the board voted against halting the execution until then.

Billy Joe Wardlow

Billy Joe Wardlow TDCJ

The parole board also received letters from two jurors at his trial who said they now believe Wardlow should have gotten a life sentence based on new research.

“I have since that time … come to the conclusion that because of Mr. Wardlow’s youthful age at the time this crime was committed, we could not have predicted how he would turn out when he grew into adulthood,” Bob Seale wrote in a letter to the board after Wardlow’s legal team reached out to him.