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Texas Executes Its Oldest Death Row Inmate For Killing 4 People

Lester Bower, who has maintained his innocence in the 1983 murders of four men, was executed Wednesday after spending more than 30 years on death row.

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Bower was executed Wednesday evening by lethal injection and pronounced dead at 6:36 pm CT, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said. He was the oldest inmate to be put to death in Texas since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982.

“Much has been written about this case, not all of it has been the truth," Bower said in a statement before being put to death.

"But the time is over and now it is time to move on. I want to thank my attorneys for all that they have done. They have afforded me the last quarter of a century. I would like to thank my wife, my daughters, family and friends for unwavering support, and all of the letters and well wishes over the years. Now it is time to pass on. I have fought the good fight, I held the faith. I am not going to say goodbye, I will simply say until we meet again. I love you very, very much. Thank you Warden.”

Texas's oldest and second-longest serving death row inmate since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 is set to be executed on Wednesday.

Lester Bower, 67, was convicted of the 1983 murders of four men during the theft of an ultralight aircraft from a Dallas airplane hangar. He has maintained his innocence in the murders of Jerry Brown, Bob Tate, Philip Good and Ronald Mayes; the latter two were law enforcement officers.

Bower was on death row for more than 30 years and has faced seven execution dates.

Bower was convicted of killing Tate in order to steal an ultralight aircraft he had advertised to sell for $4,500. He then killed the other three men, execution style, when they unexpectedly showed up at the ranch hangar, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

His attorneys have filed a last minute appeal with the Supreme Court to stop his execution. In March, the Supreme Court declined to review Bower's death sentence, which was handed down 30 years ago under older guidelines by which the jury deciding Bower's fate did not get the opportunity to consider potentially mitigating evidence — evidence that could lead to a lesser punishment.

This was something the Supreme Court later declared unconstitutional. In Bower's case, the mitigating evidence included testimony of his good character from friends and family.

His attorneys have argued that there are six witnesses who say that the murders were not committed by Bower, but by other individuals as a part of a drug deal gone wrong.

An unnamed witness signed an affidavit in 1989, saying that her ex-boyfriend, Lynn Langford, and three other men committed the murders after a drug deal went awry. She said she heard her ex-boyfriend and the others discuss the killings when they were drunk and that Langford was unable to sleep for weeks after that.

Her story was corroborated by other witnesses, including the wife of one of the other three men who discussed the murders with Langford. One of the men, Ches, also admitted to owning a .22 pistol with Fiocchi bullets which were used to kill the men, the Intercept reported.

The Fiocchi ammunition used in the murders was at the center of the state's case against Bower, and his attorneys have argued that prosecutors misrepresented important facts and withheld crucial evidence about the ammunition.

During the trial, the state had argued that the Fiocchi ammunition, found in Bower's possession, was so unique and rare that only 12 to 15 people in Texas had bought or owned it. Following multiple Freedom of Information Act requests by Bower's lawyers, the state released records that showed it was aware that the ammunition was used by hundreds of people and was not as rare or unique as prosecutors had presented.

Defense attorneys also said that Bower's execution will amount to cruel and unusual punishment after he has spent more than 30 years on death row, including more than 14 years in solitary confinement.

"Courts have left him languishing for years at a stretch while requests for relief have been pending," his lawyers said in appeals. "Mr. Bower has been on death row since 1984, and for this entire 30-year span, there have been only 132 days in which Mr. Bower has not had legitimate, meritorious legal claims pending before some court. And all the while, Mr. Bower has been isolated from his friends and family—often in routine administrative segregation—and under the constant mental burden of possible execution."

The state has argued that any delay in Bower's execution is "purely of his own doing" owing to his relentless litigation raising "meritless claims" over 30 years and "unnecessarily delaying justice for the four families of the men that Bower slaughtered in cold blood." The state said that every court has disagreed with Bower's "fanciful theories" about his innocence.

In 1983, Bower, then 35, lived with his wife, Shari, and their two daughters in the Arlington suburb of Dallas. He worked as a chemical salesman and was an avid bow hunter, white water rafter and a licensed firearms dealer.

On Oct. 3, 1983, Bower visited a B&B ranch owned by one of the victims, Bob Tate, a 51-year-old building contractor. Tate also owned an ultralight aircraft that was advertised to sell for $4,500. Bower and Tate agreed that Bower would pay $3,000 in cash and an additional $1,500 later on the condition that he left his business card with a $1,500 IOU written at the back.

From this point on, Bower's version of what happened differs from the state's.

Bower said the four men helped him disassemble the craft which he loaded on to his vehicle and returned home.

Later that day, authorities found the body of Mayes, a 39-year-old former police officer, at the door of the hangar. The bodies of Tate; 29-year-old sheriff's deputy Philip Good; and 52-year-old interior designer Jerry Brown were under a pile of carpeting in the hangar.

Good, Tate and Brown had been shot twice in the head, and Mayes had been shot in the head, neck, right arm and chest, according to court documents. Tate's ultralight was also missing.

Bower said he learned of the murders the next day but did not come forward about his presence at the hangar as his wife had forbidden him to buy the ultralight and he did not want her to know about it. He also denied his involvement with Tate and the ultralight when questioned by the FBI. In later interviews, Bower said he initially lied to protect his family and to save himself from embarrassment after lying to his wife about the ultralight.

After his arrest, Bower told his wife's pastor about meeting the victims at the hangar and prepared a handwritten account of his version of events. Authorities did not find the murder weapon, a .22 Ruger pistol, or Bower's fingerprints at the scene of the crime. There were no witnesses either.

On the state's side, Texas has maintained there was ample evidence linking Bower to the murders. He possessed the .22 caliber ammunition used in the murders and two ultralight tires, with the victim's name on them. Other ultralight parts were recovered from his house. Unidentified blood stains were also found on a pair of his boots and a travel bag.

Bower practiced firing the .22 caliber gun at a shooting range days before the murder and "offered a plainly incredible story" about losing the pistol while camping due to an attack of kidney stones, according to the state. Bower was also in possession of the Fiocchi bullets, the shell casings of which were found at the crime scene. He also lied to investigators about his involvement with the victims, the state said.

"I blame myself mightily for the position I'm in," Bower said in a recent interview with the Star-Telegram. "The minute you start bucking the system, you immediately go from a person of interest to a prime suspect." He said that while he didn't blame the prosecutors then, he wished they would have the chance to consider other evidence now.

He told the Star-Telegram that he is not afraid of death any more. "If they kill me two weeks from now, my last words will probably be 'I'm out of here.' What can possibly be worse than this?"

Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at tasneem.nashrulla@buzzfeed.com.

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