WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Just six days after friends and family gathered to remember the life of Zachary Wood on the anniversary of his death, the second and third defendants charged with his murder are heading to prison after pleading guilty on Friday morning.
On Friday, May 26, 2023, during a scheduled hearing in the Wichita County Court of Law 2, the temporary home of the 30th District Court, William Andrew Bell and Payton Mackenzie Collier pleaded guilty to murder.
Wood was found deceased in a ransacked residence on Brown Street in May 2022. Officers with the Wichita Falls Police Department called it a “massive bloodletting event.”
Following the WFPD’s investigation, Ronnie Lang, William Bell, Payton Collier, and Ashley Esselborn were all indicted for Wood’s murder.
In September 2022, during a scheduled pre-trial hearing, Lang entered a surprise guilty plea and was sentenced to 50 years in prison, and soon after, plea bargains were offered to the other three defendants.
The first of the remaining three to do so was Bell, who signed a plea agreement on Friday, May 12, 2023. Bell was sentenced to 30 years in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional facility.
Then, shortly thereafter, another unexpected plea. Collier, who has been behind bars since May 2022 and was appearing Friday morning in court for a scheduled pre-trial conference, also took a deal.
Overcome with emotion, Collier pleaded guilty to Wood’s murder.
After Bell and Collier were found guilty and sentenced by 30th District Court Judge Jeff McKnight on Friday morning, several individuals gave victim impact statements, including Wood’s father, Earle Wood, whose anger at the loss of his son was palpable in his words to Bell and Collier.
“Y’all got lucky with those little plea sentences y’all got,” Earle Wood said. “I think you deserve more for what you’ve done to my family.”
Collier was sentenced to 25 years behind bars, just half of Ronnie Lang’s sentence, and five years fewer than William Bell.
This marks three of the four defendants accused of Wood’s murder on Brown Street in May 2022 that have been convicted after they agreed to plea deals. Ronnie Lang was the first defendant who pleaded guilty, in September 2022, and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Ashley Esselborn is the final defendant accused of Wood’s murder that has yet to be convicted or enter a plea. She remains behind bars.
This is a developing story. Stick with Texoma’s Homepage for updates as more information becomes available.