Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Man on Texas death row 3 decades loses appeal

HOUSTON (AP) — An Arlington man on death row 30 years for the shooting deaths of four people at an airplane hangar on a North Texas ranch lost an appeal Wednesday before Texas' highest criminal court.

A Grayson County judge had said jurors who sentenced Lester Bower should have been given a way to consider mitigating evidence of his good behavior and non-violent past. But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused, saying Bower "was not constitutionally entitled" to a separate jury instruction focused on the mitigating evidence.

The appeals court also rejected arguments that Bower was innocent, that prosecutors improperly withheld evidence from his trial lawyers, and that executing the now 66-year-old inmate after holding him for so long on death row would be unconstitutionally cruel.

Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown said he would soon as for an execution date.

"We think all issues have been litigated and appeals are exhausted, but we also know Mr. Bower's attorneys have continued to file appeals over 30 years," he said.

Melissa Hensley, listed in court documents as Bower's attorney, referred questions to a legal team in Washington. Peter Buscemi, a Washington attorney also listed on the documents, did not immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press.

Bower long has maintained his innocence in the October 1983 shooting deaths of Bob Tate, 51, a Denison building contractor; Ronald Mayes, 39, a former Sherman police officer; Philip Good, 29, a Grayson County sheriff's deputy; and Jerry Mac Brown, 52, a Sherman interior designer.

The bodies were discovered at the hangar on Tate's ranch, where Good stored his ultralight plane. Parts of the missing aircraft were later found in Bower's garage in Arlington.

Bower, then 36, initially lied to authorities about being at the hangar, but he later recanted. But he insisted that when he left, the men at the ranch were alive.

"In life you make decisions sometimes you wish you could take back," he told the AP from prison in 2008.

Prosecutors built a circumstantial case against Bower, a college graduate and father of two daughters who worked as a chemical salesman. Investigators alleged that he killed the men while stealing the plane and connected Bower to the case after finding he had made three phone calls to Good on his company credit card.

Bower is among the longest-serving Texas death row inmates because his case has slowly moved through the state and federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review his case in April 2008, and Bower was set to die three months later, but a judge in Grayson County withdrew the execution date to allow for DNA testing.

Five years after his trial, a woman implicated four other men in the case, saying the shootings were the result of a drug deal gone bad. Then at the 2012 hearing, Bower's attorneys produced witnesses who said other men were responsible for the four slayings. Prosecutors challenged the information.


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