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Supreme Court Stays Texas Execution

(CN) - The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution of a Texas inmate who was set to die next week for the fatal shooting of four men in an airplane hangar in 1983.

Lester Bower Jr. had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on February 10. As is their custom, the justices did not comment on or explain their decision other than to note that should Bower's petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, the stay would automatically be lifted.

Bower was convicted of shooting four men to death on Oct. 8, 1983, at a ranch in Sherman, Texas, owned by one of the victims, Bobby Glen Tate.

The victims' bodies were found in a hangar where Tate stored ultra-light aircraft, and Tate's ultra-light was missing. In the days leading up to the murders, one of the other victims, Philip Good, had been helping Tate try to sell his ultra-light.

Good's widow testified that a potential buyer was supposed to pick up Tate's ultra-light on the day of the murders.

Bower, who is a registered gun owner, admitted that he had called Good about buying the aircraft but did not follow through and was not in Sherman on the day of the murders. Though he denied owning a .22-caliber handgun, which investigators pegged as the murder weapon, a search of his home turned up an instruction manual for a Ruger .22-caliber pistol, information on silencers, a form letter from a company that deals primarily in silencer parts, and a record showing Bower had acquired and sold a Ruger RST-6 .22-caliber pistol on February 12, 1982, and then sold it to himself on March 1, 1982.

Sales records proved that, in the weeks before the murder, Bower had ordered eight boxes of bullets for a .22, matching the bullets used in the murder, which are "specialty items" not sold "over the counter" at sporting-goods stores.

But Bower's attorneys have long maintained their client was railroaded, and that the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office knew of Bower's innocence of murder, but withheld exculpatory evidence at his 1984 trial.

In July 2011, the D.C. Circuit ruled the FBI must turn over documents Bower's legal team hoped would prove that four Oklahoma drug dealers actually committed the murders.

In their appeal to the high court, Bower's attorneys argue the jurors who decided his fate had faulty instructions that didn't allow them to consider mitigating circumstances, such as his lack of a prior criminal record and his apparently stable home and work life.

Since Bower's trial, a number of court rulings have refined instructions to capital murder trial juries in Texas. As a result, several death-row inmates have been granted new punishment trials.

Bower's attorneys are also asking the justices to consider whether a conviction aided by the failure of prosecutors to produce evidence contradicting their case violates the Constitution, and whether the execution of an inmate who has been on death row for more than 30 years and has had his execution postponed time and again, violates the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

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