BY TIM MADIGAN
A state judge in Sherman has postponed the July 22 execution date of Lester Leroy Bower Jr. and plans to hold hearings that could involve the Arlington man’s claims of innocence.
Bower’s stay of execution, signed late Monday by Judge Jim Fallon, was the latest twist in a case that began nearly a quarter-century ago when four men were found shot to death inside an airplane hangar near Sherman. In 1984, Bower was convicted and sent to Texas’ Death Row, where he has survived five execution dates during a lengthy appellate process.
Prosecutors contended at his trial that Bower, now 60, killed Bob Tate, Ronald Mayes, Jerry Mack Brown and Philip Good during the theft of an ultralight aircraft. But defense lawyers have uncovered witnesses who allege that other men were the killers and that the massacre occurred during a drug deal gone bad.
"My reaction is mixed," Shari Bower, the condemned man’s wife, said Wednesday of the stay. "We’ve been doing this for 24 years. By the same token, this is what we’ve been praying for, to get back into court and have someone look at the evidence. Now our prayers are going to go out that this judge will see the validity of all this."
News of Bower’s stay also inspired complicated emotions among survivors of the victims, including Lorna Mayes Murphy, the only daughter of Ronald Mayes. Murphy was 13 when her father was slain and named her first child after him.
"You learn to live with that over the years," she said Wednesday of her grief. "You don’t hear about it. You don’t talk about it. But now, when it comes back, this sadness, this sense of loss, it’s like losing him all over again. . . .There has to be some closure for the families."
Yet Murphy said the new evidence has raised questions in her mind about whether the right man was convicted.
"I want to believe they’ve found the man who did this. I want to believe it was Bower," Murphy said. "I can’t help it when they’re starting to bring other evidence up. Did they get the right person? And if they didn’t, they need to find the right person. I just want it to be right. I want it to be done and be over."
Mayes’ widow and Murphy’s stepmother, Paula Mayes, said Wednesday she has no doubt that Bower is the killer. Bower’s stay was another devastating setback in her ongoing attempts to heal, she said.
"I mean, there is enough evidence against him that it would almost convince people there was an eyewitness," Paula Mayes said. "To me, he [Bower] is the scum of the earth. I have forgiven him and tried to move on, but he keeps weaseling his way back into my life and I think it’s wrong. This has been going on for 25 years and it’s all about his rights. What about our rights?"
From the time of his arrest, Bower, a family man and chemical salesman, has denied involvement in the killings. He has acknowledged visiting the hangar the afternoon of the crimes to buy an ultralight aircraft from Tate. But when first questioned by investigators, Bower repeatedly denied making the trip to the hangar, fabrications that likely played a large role in his conviction. He was arrested when parts of the ultralight belonging to Tate were found in his Arlington residence. Bower was also known to have the same kind of weapon and exotic ammunition that was used in the massacre.
But six years after the killings, a witness came forward to tell defense lawyers that her then-boyfriend talked about participating in the killings and mentioned three accomplices. The wife of one of the other alternative suspects recently told defense investigators that she overheard similar discussions about the slayings. Lawyers for Bower say they have confirmed several other key aspects of the new scenario. The names of the witnesses and suspects have been kept under court seal.
In recent motions, Bower’s lawyers have asked Fallon to allow new DNA analysis of hair and cigarette butts found at the crime scene. The defense hopes that the testing might link one of the other suspects to the crime. Citing the new evidence, Bower has also asked Fallon to set aside his conviction and death sentence. The judge could consider both requests during hearings in the next few weeks.
"We do very much appreciate an opportunity to present those issues when the parties and the court are not operating under the emotional pressure that comes with an imminent execution date," defense lawyer Anthony Roth said.
Did they get the right person? And if they didn’t, they need to find the right person. I just want it to be right. I want it to be done and be over."
Lorna Mayes Murphy,
the only daughter of Ronald Mayes
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Jester Leroy's execution stayed
Fort Worth Star-Telegram has the earliest update on the case.