SHERMAN — Four years after stopping the execution of convicted murderer Lester Leroy Bower and granting him a hearing for new evidence, Grayson County Judge Jim Fallon finally began to hear those details on Monday.
“I’m hopeful and we are so grateful for the opportunity that we have to present some of this new evidence,” said Leslea Miller, Bower’s oldest daughter.
Bower, now 64, was convicted of killing Bob Tate, Phillip Good, Ronald Mayes, and Jerry "Mac" Brown in 1983 while buying an ultralight aircraft at a rural hangar in Sherman.
Though admitting he initially lied to the FBI about being at the crime scene, Bower — who lived in Arlington at the time — has always claimed his innocence.
But his defense team did not immediately reveal the results of the forensic testing they requested in 2008 — or any other new evidence on Monday.
“They’re as convinced he is innocent as we are that he’s guilty,” said Robbie Brown Dutton, Brown's widow. “This is just more of what we’ve heard over the past 29 years. We wouldn’t want Mr. Bower to be put to death for a crime he didn’t commit. But we have to think to all the evidence that proved it.”
The defense called four witnesses to testify on Monday — including Les Bower — along with a former Mesquite resident who also claims he is innocent.
The woman came forward in 1989 before Bower’s first scheduled execution date. She said four other men are actually responsible for the murders, including one she briefly dated named "Lynn."
“It weighed real heavily on me,” she said. “Had Mr. Bower gotten a life sentence, I probably wouldn’t have said anything.”
The woman’s identity is under seal, but in court she was referred to as "Witness One." Bower’s defense team said she was not subpoenaed to testify, but volunteered to discuss what she remembered about Lynn.
“He said that he and his friends had gone there for a dope deal, and it didn’t go right, and they had to kill some people,” Witness One testified.
She went on to say that Lynn had a hard time sleeping after the crime took place in 1983.
“He said that he could see the man’s eyes when he shot him, and he could hear the noise reverberating off the tin building,” she recalled.
Since coming forward in 1989, Witness One has shared her story several times in legal proceedings and with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
During cross-examination, prosecutors scrutinized the woman for failing to notify police or prosecutors about what she said she knew.
Kerye Ashmore, an assistant district attorney in Grayson County, picked apart Witness One’s story and characterized her as a drug user with a foggy memory who volunteered information to the defense, but fought a subpoena from prosecutors to testify about it before the grand jury.
Late Monday afternoon, Bower took the stand for the first time since 2000.
"Who’s responsible for you being in prison?" asked his attorney, James Glenn.
“This is my doing,” Bower replied, admitting he should not have lied to two FBI agents about being at the hangar.
Bower — who sat in an orange jumpsuit between his three attorneys when not testifying — suffers from hearing loss and cannot hear all the testimony, his legal team said.
Bower’s wife, two daughters, friends and family filled a couple of rows in the courtroom immediately behind him.
Robbie Brown Dutton — along with friends and family of the four victims — sat on the other side of the courtroom behind the prosecutors.
Anthony Roth, one of Bower’s attorneys, said the defense plans to call six witnesses.
Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown said his team plans to call four witnesses and reveal results of DNA testing on cigarette butts and hair collected from the hangar after the murders.
Bower’s evidentiary hearing was originally scheduled to last two days, but he still faces cross-examination on Tuesday, with as many as a half-dozen additional witnesses who may be called to testify.
Judge Jim Fallon will eventually make a recommendation to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which is currently considering Bower’s case, on whether the new evidence exonerates him. The judge has to make his recommendation by the end of the year.
After 29 years at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Bower is currently one of the longest serving inmates on Death Row.