New witnesses come forward on behalf of Death Row inmate

Posted Monday, Nov. 19, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

SHERMAN -- Lawyers for Death Row inmate Lester Bower say that in the last three weeks, two new witnesses have come forward to further cast doubt on Bower's guilt.

That brings to four the number of witnesses who, either through testimony or sworn affidavit, have said men other than the former Arlington resident committed the 1983 slayings of four in an airplane hangar near Sherman.

State District Judge Jim Fallon is expected to rule in early December on a defense motion that seeks to win Bower a new trial in the capital murder case that has stretched on for nearly three decades. Bower, a chemical salesman and family man, turned 65 today, the fourth-oldest man on Texas' Death Row.

In testimony before Fallon on Monday, defense witness Rickey Joe Donaghey described a conversation he said he had with Brett "Bear" Leckie, a man other witnesses had previously implicated in the killings. Leckie said that he was searching for three kilos of cocaine supposedly hidden in the hangar, when he was surprised by three men, who threatened to report him to the police.

"He then pulled his gun and shot the three men," and continued to look for the cocaine, Donaghey said he was told. "Another man walked in and he had no choice but to shoot him."

Donaghey did not report what he had been told until he saw news reports of another Bower hearing in late October.

In that court session, two women had testified that a drug gang of four men, including Leckie, had gunned down Bob Tate, Philip Good, Jerry Mack Brown and Ronald Mayes in the hangar. In Bower's 1984 trial, prosecutors had convinced jurors that Bower had killed the men to hide his theft of an ultralight aircraft.

Last week, a fourth witness, Leckie's son, came forward to say that Leckie admitted being present when the killing occurred. Leckie's admission came shortly after he was diagnosed with lung cancer that eventually took his life.

The accounts of the defense witnesses vary, "but the essential truth is the same," lawyers wrote to Judge Fallon last week. "Bear and his colleagues were involved in the murders, and Lester Bower was not."

Again on Monday, Grayson County prosecutors vigorously attacked the credibility of defense witnesses. All four have admitted being heavy drug users.

"It's completely contradictory," prosecutor Kerye Ashmore said Monday during a break in the hearing. "At some point consistency matters."

During the hearing, Ashmore told Fallon of a prison inmate who had come forward.

"This man implicated Mr. Bower and another person in the penitentiary and it's not any of the four that have been accused by the defense," Ashmore said.

Ashmore would not comment further after the hearing.

Defense lawyers termed the inmate's new story "convoluted." They are banking instead on the testimony of the four witnesses who they say came forward independently.

"We obviously believe there is a cumulative affect to this number of people," defense lawyer James Glenn said Monday. "Regardless of what one thinks about a recovering drug addict, this many?"

Bower was arrested several weeks after the shooting when phone records linked him to one of the victims. He repeatedly denied visiting the hangar the day of the slayings, though parts of an ultralight owned by one of the men were found in his home.

Bower, who has always proclaimed his innocence, has since testified he did visit the hangar to purchase the aircraft. He has conceded that his lies helped lead to his conviction and death sentence.

Tim Madigan, (817) 390-7544

Twitter: @tsmadigan

Looking for comments?

We welcome your comments on this story, but please be civil. Do not use profanity, hate speech, threats, personal abuse or any device to draw undue attention. Our policy requires those wishing to post here to use their real identity.

Our commenting policy | Facebook commenting FAQ | Why Facebook?