State of Texas executes Donald Newbury; Supreme Court stays execution of Lester Bower

Last night the State of Texas carried out its third execution of the year, putting Donald Newbury to death for the 2000 murder of Irving Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins.  Newbury was serving a 99-year sentence for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon when he and six other inmates broke out of the Connally Unit near Kenedy, Texas on December 13, 2000. The “Texas Seven” made their way to North Texas, where on Christmas Eve they robbed a sporting goods store at gunpoint and killed Officer Hawkins.

Two of Newbury’s co-defendants have already been executed, one committed suicide, and three others remain on death row. Read more from the Texas Tribune.

Texas accounts for three of the seven executions to date in the United States this year.

*Breaking news* The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution to Lester Bower “pending the disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari.” Bower was scheduled to be executed next week on February 10th for the shooting deaths of four men at an ultralight airplane hangar near Sherman in 1983.  Bower, a former chemical salesman with no prior criminal history, has consistently maintained his innocence.  He has spent more than 30 years on death row in Texas.

According to KXII News 12 in Sherman, attorneys for Bower presented three arguments to the Justices:

1. Whether the former Texas special issues for death penalty sentencing allowed the jury to consider mitigating evidence of good character;

2. Whether evidence disclosed by the state after the trial that the rare specialty ammunition prosecutors said Bower used to commit the murders was not really all that rare constitutes a due process clause violation of the 5th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution; and

3. Whether executing a defendant whom has served more than 30 years on death row constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Bower’s trial took place before a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Johnny Paul Penry, which determined that jurors must be given an opportunity to consider mitigating evidence in the punishment phase of death penalty trials.  Dozens of people on death row in Texas have received new sentencing hearings as a result of that ruling.

Read more from KXII.