Execution Delayed in Review of 1984 Murders

State Judge Allows Re-Examination of DNA Evidence in 1984 Slayings

ByABC News
July 7, 2008, 9:58 AM

July 5, 2008— -- Three months after four bodies were found shot execution-style in an airplane hangar on the B&B Ranch north of Dallas, chemical salesman Lester Leroy Bower Jr. was charged with capital murder.

Four months later, a Grayson County jury deliberated two hours before convicting him. It took them only another two hours the next day before deciding he should die for the crime.

No fingerprints put him at the scene. No witnesses saw him there. The murder weapon never was recovered. Bower never confessed. DNA testing wasn't available in 1984.

Now a state district judge has stopped a scheduled July 22 execution for Bower and has agreed to consider his request that evidence in the case be examined to see if DNA testing could back up his quarter-century-long claims of innocence.

Prosecutors, who oppose the testing as yet another delay tactic, said the mild-mannered salesman with a long marriage, two daughters and no record of criminal activity or mental-health problems just snapped. It happens, they said.

Bower made them suspicious. He had lied to his wife, and authorities, about his efforts to buy an ultralight plane. His wife didn't want him cavorting through the air in such a flimsy craft. He sold firearms on the side, including the kind that carried the ammunition used to kill the men.

"I was quite capable of purchasing whatever I need without killing four people," Bower, now 60, said recently from Texas death row. "Virtually no one, except for the prosecution, thinks this sounds like anything I would do.

If mass murderers fit a profile, Bower stands out. Texas A&M University graduate, good job, family man, father of two daughters, soccer dad, stable marriage, no mental disabilities, no history of childhood abuse, no previous criminal record.

"An absolutely stellar record," Bower said. "Then one day, as the prosecutor says, I snapped, killed four people and snapped back. Those are his words, not mine.

"I'm not minimizing that people don't snap, that people walk into schools and start shooting, former employees walk into post offices. I mean, am I a threat? Does this really sound like something I would do?" Yes, prosecutors insist.

"There is no question in my mind that Bower is guilty," said Ronald Sievert, a federal prosecutor named as a special prosecutor to assist in Bower's trial. "Contrary to some television and movie portrayals, the fact is that no ethical prosecutor would ever seek a capital conviction, in fact any conviction, unless they were convinced of the defendant's guilt."