County OKs Death Penalty Trial 'Insurance"
Howard County commissioners gave the go-ahead Monday morning to join an
85-county public defender task force that handles capital cases through
2009, but showed some doubt in the long-term usefulness of the program.
The task force program helps counties defray the expense of a death
penalty trial which can range from $80,000 and $200,000. The program will
cost the county slightly more than $7,000 through 2009, but according to
county officials, the fee increases dramatically over the next 4 years.
"If we approve this, there's no cost for the remainder of 2008, and it
would be just over $7,000 for 2009," County Judge Mark Barr told the
court. "There's a state grant that pays for part of it, but as that grant
runs out, the cost goes up. In 2010 we would be looking at about $10,473,
and in 2011 it goes up to around $13,000. By 2012 it would be up to about
Barr said the court is required to give the task force 180 days notice if
Howard County plans to leave the program.
"It's really a coin toss," said Barr. "This is basically insurance.
However, right now we have a case that's been kicked back by the appellate
court, at least the punishment phase has, and there's the possibility the
recent shooting could become a capital case" Howard County District
Attorney Hardy Wilkerson is currently faced with a decision whether to
re-seek the death penalty for the county's only death row inmate, whose
sentence was recently overturned by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Billy Ray Nelson, sentenced to death for the February 1991 fatal stabbing
of Charla Wheat, had his sentence overturned in December 2006. At that
time, the court ordered a new punishment phase trial for Nelson, who has
been on death row for almost 16 years. The circuit court decision pertains
only to retrying Nelson on punishment and has no bearing on his
established guilt, officials said.
The May 4 double homicide of two Big Spring residents Michael Cardona,
21, and Valerie Garcia, 20, who is believed to have been pregnant at the
time of her death is currently being investigated by the Big Spring
Police Department, and according to Wilkerson, could become a death
"It certainly appears to have the merits necessary for capital murder, but
until the details of the investigation are turned over to us its hard to
say for sure," said Wilkerson shortly after the investigation began.
"Anything at this point would purely be speculation."
Commissioner Jerry Kilgore said he had consulted with Wilkerson on the
matter, and the average number of cases that could turn into a death
penalty case each year is surprising.
"He said on average we have these kinds of cases once every 4 years," said
Kilgore. "They may not go that far, but that's about how often we have a
trial that could become a death penalty case."
Commissioners voted unanimously to join the task force.
(source: Big Spring Herald)
DNA Testing May Free Arlington Man On Death Row
An Arlington man has been on death row for 24 years for a quadruple murder
he says he did not commit.
A hearing will be held Thursday to consider new DNA testing that Lester
Bower says will clear his name and spare his life.
"We know that the 4 people we are alleging committed this crime, they have
all been in prison before. So, like me their DNA is on record somewhere,"
Bower was convicted of execution-style killings of 4 men at an airplane
hanger at the B & B ranch just outside Sherman, Texas. The killings
happened on October 8, 1983.
Among the evidence collected: cigarette butts, hair and saliva.
But, Grayson County prosecutors have said they can't guarantee it has not
been handled or tampered with over the years.
"I'm a little incredulous about that," said Bower. "They're supposed to be
the custodians of the evidence."
Shari Bower, who has been married to Les for 40 years, served as a
paralegal on his defense team. She knew the evidence. She knew Les.
"We're just wanting to prove our innocence claim through the DNA," she
said. "We have been together since I was 15 and he was 17, and you don't
NOT know that person."
Shari says the case took a turn in 1989 with a phone call.
"When she called, I thought she was some crack pot until she started
telling me things that nobody else knew," she said.
It wasn't Lester Bower who should have gone to death row, the woman told
Shari. It was the caller's ex-boyfriend and his friends who did the
The Bowers say Les was convicted on circumstances. He was at the airplane
hanger to buy an ultra-light plane the day of the murders, but he lied
about it to his wife because she didn't want him to buy one. He kept up
the lie to investigators.
"Once you start a fib, it just builds," said Les.
"That's what he's guilty of: lying to his wife and lying to the FBI," said
Leslea Miller, the Bowers daughter. "But he doesn't deserve to die for
Leslea was 11-years-old when her father was taken away.
"Whether he is exonerated or whether he is put to death, he will finally
be free and that's what we all want," Miller said.
Bower's hearing will be held Thursday at the Grayson County Justice Center
(source: Associated Press)