HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas inmate set to be executed next week for fatally shooting four men at an airplane hangar more than 30 years ago won a reprieve Thursday from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lester Bower Jr., 67, among the longest-serving Texas death row inmates, had been scheduled for lethal injection Tuesday. The justices gave no reason for the reprieve, saying only that it would be lifted automatically if they deny an appeal or act on it.
Bower was convicted in the October 1983 deaths at a Grayson County ranch about 60 miles north of Dallas. Authorities found parts from a small ultralight airplane at the hangar at his home in Arlington, a Dallas suburb. Prosecutors also tied unusual Italian-made .22-caliber bullets used in the slayings to similar ammunition purchased by Bower, a federally licensed gun dealer.
In their appeal to the high court, Bower's lawyers said jurors who decided on his death sentence had faulty instructions that didn't allow them to consider mitigating circumstances that he had no criminal record, was a married father of two, college educated and employed as a chemical salesman.
Since his 1984 trial, court rulings have refined instructions to Texas capital murder trial juries to account for mitigating circumstances. Several condemned inmates from that era — but not Bower — have received new court-ordered punishment trials.
Bower's attorneys also contended that prosecutors misstated the rarity of the fatal bullets, and that his long time on death row and numerous rescheduled execution dates amount to unconstitutional suffering.
State attorneys argued that courts have rejected appeals about the jury instructions, that information about the bullets was available at the time of his trial and that Bower's lawyers' persistent appeals account for the lengthy case.
"Any delay is purely of his own making," Stephen Hoffman, an assistant Texas attorney general, told the justices in a filing this week.
Prosecutors said Bower was obsessed with the aircraft and stole it. Bower has said he was at the hangar to purchase the aircraft and the men were alive when he left.
Those killed were building contractor Bob Tate, 51; Grayson County Sheriff's Deputy Philip Good, 29; Jerry Brown, 52, an interior designer; and Ronald Mayes, 39, a former Sherman police officer.
Good's wife, Marlene Bushard, said the delay was "very frustrating since we were so close."
"I am hoping once this is done he will be out of options, we can get another death warrant and end this," she said in an email.
Police looking through her slain husband's phone records spotted several calls from Bower, and he lied to investigators when they contacted him.
"Not cooperating with authorities was the biggest mistake," Bower told The Associated Press last month. "And I paid for it with my life. A lot of us have done some crazy things."
He insisted the presence of the disassembled aircraft at his house should not be incriminating.
"They can't prove it was stolen and I can't prove I bought it," he said. "They have four dead men. It's too good a story, so they say I stole it."