Texas man on death row since 1984 loses Supreme Court appeal

AP News
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Posted: Mar 23, 2015 12:13 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court turned away an appeal Monday from a convicted killer who has spent more than 30 years on death row in Texas.

The justices rejected the appeal from Lester Bower of Arlington, Texas.

Bower's scheduled execution last month for the fatal shootings of four people at an airplane hangar on a North Texas ranch in 1983 had been stopped by Justice Antonin Scalia pending the outcome of the appeal.

Bower's appeal raised several issues, including his claim that other people were responsible for the deaths. He also contends that executing him now after he has been held for so long on death row would be unconstitutionally cruel.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have thrown out Bower's death sentence because jurors didn't get to consider evidence that might have persuaded them to impose something other than a death sentence.

"I recognize that we do not often intervene only to correct a case-specific legal error. But the error here is glaring, and its consequence may well be death," Breyer wrote in a dissent that Ginsburg and Sotomayor joined.

Bower long has maintained his innocence in the October 1983 shooting. The bodies were discovered at the hangar on the ranch, where one of the victims stored his ultralight plane. Parts of the missing aircraft were later found in Bower's garage in Arlington.

Bower, then 36, initially lied to authorities about being at the hangar, but he later recanted. But he insisted that when he left, the men at the ranch were alive.

Prosecutors built a circumstantial case against Bower, a college graduate and father of two daughters who worked as a chemical salesman. Investigators alleged that he killed the men while stealing the plane and connected Bower to the case after finding he had made three phone calls to the plane's owner on his company credit card.

Bower is among the longest-serving Texas death row inmates because his case has slowly moved through the state and federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review his case in April 2008, and Bower was set to die three months later, but a judge in Grayson County withdrew the execution date to allow for DNA testing.

Five years after his trial, a woman implicated four other men in the case, saying the shootings were the result of a drug deal gone bad. Then at the 2012 hearing, Bower's attorneys produced witnesses who said other men were responsible for the four slayings. Prosecutors challenged the information.