Questions raised about capital case 24 years later
3 months after 4 bodies were found shot execution-style in an airplane
hangar on the B&B Ranch north of Dallas in 1984, chemical salesman Lester
Leroy Bower Jr. was charged with capital murder.
4 months later, a jury deliberated just 2 hours before convicting him,
then deliberated only 2 hours more the following day before deciding he
should die for the crime.
No fingerprints put him at the scene. No witnesses saw him there. The
murder weapon never was found. Bower never confessed. DNA testing wasn't
More than 20 years later, a state judge has stopped Bower's scheduled July
22 execution and has agreed to consider his request that evidence be
examined to see if DNA testing could back up his claim of innocence.
Prosecutors oppose the testing as a delaying tactic, saying Bower a
mild-mannered man with no record of criminal activity or mental-health
problems just snapped.
Bower made them suspicious. He had lied to his wife and to authorities
about his efforts to buy an ultralight plane; she didn't want him flying
such a flimsy craft. He sold firearms on the side, including the kind that
fired the ammunition used to kill the men.
"I was quite capable of purchasing whatever I need without killing four
people," Bower, now 60, said recently from Texas death row. "Virtually no
one, except for the prosecution, thinks this sounds like anything I would
Bower says he had a good job and was a family man, father of 2 daughters,
with a stable marriage.
"An absolutely stellar record," Bower said. "Then one day, as the
prosecutor says, I snapped, killed 4 people and snapped back. Those are
his words, not mine.
"I'm not minimizing that people don't snap … Does this really sound like
something I would do?"
Yes, prosecutors insist.
"Contrary to some television and movie portrayals, the fact is that no
ethical prosecutor would ever seek a capital conviction, in fact any
conviction, unless they were convinced of the defendant's guilt," said
Ronald Sievert, a federal prosecutor who was named as a special prosecutor
to assist in Bower's trial. He is now a professor of National Security Law
at the University of Texas Law School and the Bush School of Government at
Texas A&M University.
Bower is realistic about his chances for reprieve in the nation's most
active death penalty state.
"I'm hoping somebody will take a look at it and say there seems to be
enough to bring the verdict into question and there is a likelihood this
is a miscarriage of justice," he said. "That's probably the best I can
Sievert and Grayson County prosecutors built a circumstantial case
surrounding Bower's purchase of the ultralight airplane from sheriff's
Deputy Philip Good, 29. The aircraft was stored at a hangar owned by
building contractor Bob Tate, 51.
Tate; Good; Jerry Brown, 52, a Sherman interior designer; and Ronald
Mayes, 39, a former Sherman police officer, were all killed at the hangar.
Bower acknowledges he lied to the FBI about his involvement in the
purchase of the plane.
"If you haven't done anything wrong, there's absolutely no reason to lie
to the police ever," said Karla Hackett, an assistant Grayson County
district attorney handling the appeal. "When you are about up to your
eyeballs in a murder investigation and they're clearly looking at you as a
suspect, I think you come clean."
"In life you make decisions sometimes you wish you could take back," Bower
said from prison. "I was there."
He said Brown was with Good that Saturday afternoon when he was
negotiating the down payment of $3,000, or 75 %, on the airplane. They all
waited about 15 minutes for Tate to show up with a key to the hangar.
Bower said he never saw Mayes.
Evidence at trial centered on Bower's 2 purchases in 1982, when he lived
in Colorado Springs, Colo., of Italian-made Fiocchi-brand .22-caliber
ammunition, the kind used in the killings. There also was evidence he had
owned a .22-caliber Ruger pistol, which prosecutors said was fitted with a
silencer he made.
Bower had a federal firearms dealer license. Prosecutors showed jurors his
books about guns and gun parts, a Ruger target pistol manual and a book
Among evidence and trial exhibits still stored in cardboard boxes at the
courthouse are four plastic foam heads, the kind used to display wigs.
These four, however, have long blue knitting needles stuck in them,
representing the paths bullets took to kill each person.
"They took some information and twisted it to their benefit," Bower said.
Hackett responded: "When you've got time on your hands, it's real easy to
sit and justify."
Investigators seized on Bower when Good's phone records showed three calls
from Bower charged on his company telephone credit card.
Parts of Tate's aircraft were missing from the hangar, and the FBI found
damaged wings in Bower's garage.
"We produced documentary evidence he had ordered silencer parts, we had
documentary evidence he purchased a .22 Ruger, we had the evidence he
purchased the Julio Fiocchi subsonic bullets, we had the Allen wrench in
his brief case that fit the silencer and would attach it to the pistol,"
Bower said he lost the pistol in 1982. His appeal says that gun couldn't
have been the murder weapon because the firing pin used in its manufacture
didn't match marks on bullet casings found at the hangar.
Questions about Bower's conviction first were raised in 1989. A woman
called one of Bower's attorneys to say her ex-boyfriend and three of his
friends were responsible for the slayings, the result of a dope deal gone
bad. The identity of the witness, who signed a sworn affidavit, and the
names of the four men she implicated have all been sealed by court order.
"The defense speculation about drug dealers in this case is just the type
of wild speculation that all defense attorneys throw out in all capital
appeals to get their client off or delay punishment," Sievert said.
Bower's attorneys point to FBI reports that initially suggested the four
slayings possibly were related to drugs or gambling. And they question
whether he could have driven the 135 miles from the hangar to his house in
less than two hours, pointing out that his wife testified he was home by
6:30 p.m., while the killings occurred between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m.
In the defense DNA request, to be reviewed July 17, Bower's lawyers want
to see if there's any DNA on crime scene evidence that matches DNA of any
of the 4 men they claim are the real killers.
Hackett said the evidence has not been protected over the years. There's
no guarantee it hasn't been substituted or tampered with and altered and
even if testing would point to "these four mystery killers," the results
couldn't say when they were at the hangar, she said.
Bower says he's ready for whatever happens:
"I told my wife I put in my time and my last words will be: 'I'm out of
here. Adios, people.'"
fi (source: Associated Press)