Judge stays Arlington man's execution, plans hearings
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.
Bowers 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 4 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
"You learn to live with that over the years," she said Wednesday of her
grief. "You dont 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 theyve found the man who did this. I want to believe it
was Bower," Murphy said. "I can't help it when theyre 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. Bowers 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 6 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
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
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)