HUNTSVILLE — A 67-year-old man convicted of killing four men more than three decades ago was executed Wednesday, making him the oldest of the 526 Texas prisoners put to death since the state resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982.
Lester Bower Jr. was convicted of the October 1983 fatal shootings at an airplane hangar on a ranch near Sherman, about 60 miles north of Dallas. Prosecutors say he killed the four after stealing an airplane he’d been trying to buy from one of his victims. “Much has been said about this case. Much has been written about this case. Not all of it has been the truth,” Bower, strapped to the death chamber gurney, said. “But the time for discerning truth is over and it’s time to move on.”
As the lethal dose of pentobarbital took effect, he snored quietly about six times and then stopped moving. He was pronounced dead at 6:36 p.m., 18 minutes later.
The execution was carried out about three hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch appeal from Bower’s lawyer, who argued that trial jurors didn’t have the opportunity in their punishment deliberations to fully consider that Bower had no previous criminal record. Attorneys also contended that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals used an incorrect legal standard when it denied an appeal for Bower a decade ago. “This is not a typical death penalty case,” his lead lawyer, Peter Buscemi, told the justices, urging a reprieve so the court “has sufficient time” to evaluate the appeal.
Stephen Hoffman, an assistant Texas attorney general, responded that 30 years of litigation was enough and justice already had been delayed “for the four families of the men that Bower slaughtered in cold blood.”
The renewed late plea to the Supreme Court came after the justices in March declined to review Bower’s case — although three justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, said they would have thrown out his death sentence.
Bower, a chemical salesman from Arlington, was arrested and charged with capital murder after the four men were found Oct. 8, 1983. Those killed were building contractor and B&B Ranch owner Bob Tate, 51; Grayson County Sheriff's Deputy Philip Good, 29, who sold ultralights and was trying to sell one owned by Tate; Jerry Brown, 52, a Sherman interior designer; and Ronald Mayes, 39, a former Sherman police officer.
“Deep in my heart, I know justice has been served,” Marlene Bushard, Good's wife, said after watching Bower die. “He is the right person that was convicted. It’s just good to close this section of our lives and move on. I didn’t need an apology. I just needed it to be done. It's been a long time.”
Prosecutors built a circumstantial case that Bower stole the aircraft and shot the men as they showed up that Saturday afternoon at the hangar where Bower was to complete the purchase. Parts of the plane later were found at Bower’s home.
Bower initially lied to his wife and to investigators. He eventually acknowledged being at the ranch, but said the victims were alive and well when he left with the disassembled plane he had purchased, although he could not produce a receipt for the transaction. His attorneys suggested years later that other men involved in a drug deal gone bad were responsible for the shootings.
Bower is nearly 1½ years older than William Chappell, who was executed at age 66 in Texas in 2002. Nationally, a 74-year-old prisoner was put to death in Alabama in 2004. Only one other executed prisoner in Texas served more time on death row than Bower.
Bower was one of two executions scheduled for this month. Another is set for June 18 and Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials said they have enough pentobarbital to carry it out. (AP)