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Texas inmate, 67, set for execution in slayings 31 years ago

    Texas death row inmate Lester Bower is photographed on May 20 during an interview from a visiting cage at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit near Livingston

HUNTSVILLE, Texas » Condemned prisoner Lester Bower Jr., convicted of fatally shooting four men more than 31 years ago, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to keep him from becoming the oldest Texas prisoner put to death if his execution is carried out as scheduled Wednesday evening.

Bower, 67, faced lethal injection for the October 1983 fatal shootings at an airplane hangar on a ranch near Sherman, about 60 miles north of Dallas. He’d be the eighth inmate given a lethal dose of pentobarbital this year in Texas, which carries out capital punishment more than any other state.

"I do have remorse," Bower, who always has maintained his innocence, told The Associated Press two weeks ago from the death row visiting area. "I’m remorseful for putting my family and my wife and my friends through this.

"And I am remorseful that the victims’ families feel like if this is going to bring some closure to them, then good. But if they think by this they’re executing the person that killed their loved one, then that’s going to come up a little bit short."

His attorneys told the high court that 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 Supreme Court in March had 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.

All were "best buddies," Marlene Bushard, Good’s wife, who planned to witness the execution, said Tuesday.

"It’s very frustrating," she said. "You move on with your life and it hits you again. I’m just looking forward to moving on."

Prosecutors built a circumstantial case that Bower, obsessed with obtaining the aircraft, stole it and shot the men as they showed up that Saturday afternoon at the hangar where Bower was to complete the purchase and where the four victims had planned to watch the Texas-Oklahoma football game on TV. Parts of the plane later were found at Bower’s home.

Bower initially lied to his wife, who didn’t want him to buy the plane, and to investigators who tracked him down from calls made to Good that were charged to Bower’s company-issued telephone credit card. He eventually acknowledged being at the ranch, but said the victims were alive and well when he left with the disassembled plane that he properly bought, but could produce no receipt. 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, who is 10th in seniority among Texas’ 265 condemned inmates.

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