LIVINGSTON, Texas — Lester Bower Jr. believes he's the same mild-mannered person he was 31 years ago when he arrived on Texas death row — not bitter, not angry and not the killer of four men.
"I didn't think I was a bad person when I came in here, and I don't think I've changed," Bower says. "I'm a little wiser, and a little older."
Bower is set for lethal injection Wednesday evening in Huntsville for the fatal shootings of four men in 1983 at an airplane hangar on a ranch outside Sherman, north of Dallas. Bower says he was there but the people were alive and well when he left.
At 67, he'd be the oldest inmate executed in Texas since the state resumed carrying out the death penalty in 1982. He'd also be the second-longest-serving Texas prisoner put to death.
"The 31 years have not been fun," he said recently from a small visiting cage outside death row. "So if they come and decide to execute me, in a way it's almost a release.
"I believe in a better place and, I'm sorry, this isn't a better place."
His attorneys had appeals before the U.S. Supreme Court, which in March declined to review his case — although three justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, said they would have thrown out his death sentence.
The chemical salesman from Arlington was arrested and charged with capital murder after the four men were found shot Oct. 8, 1983, on the B&B Ranch about 60 miles north of Dallas.
His appeals attorneys argued that Grayson County jurors didn't have the opportunity in their punishment deliberations to fully consider that Bower had no previous criminal record. Attorneys also contended that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals used an incorrect legal standard when it denied an appeal for Bower a decade ago.
"This is an extraordinary case," Bower's lead lawyer, Peter Buscemi, argued to the high court. "It would violate all notions of justice, equity, and judicial process integrity to execute Mr. Bower in these circumstances."
"Bower has relentlessly litigated his case for more than 30 years, raising unsuccessful claim after unsuccessful claim," Stephen Hoffman, an assistant Texas attorney general, told the justices. "If anything, equity and justice suggest that the decades-long litigation over this matter should finally end."
The four men killed were building contractor and ranch owner Bob Tate, 51; Grayson County Sheriff's Deputy Philip Good, 29, who sold ultralights and was trying to sell one owned by Tate; Jerry Brown, 52, a Sherman interior designer; and Ronald Mayes, 39, a former Sherman police officer. All were friends.
Prosecutors built a circumstantial case that Bower stole the aircraft and shot the victims as they showed up that Saturday afternoon at the ranch hangar where Bower was to complete the purchase and where the four victims had planned to watch the Texas-Oklahoma football game on TV. Parts of the plane later were found at Bower's home.
"I bought it, I just can't prove it," Bower said. "They can't prove it was stolen and I can't prove I bought it."
Defense lawyers have suggested other men involved in a failed drug deal were responsible for the carnage.
Bower's name surfaced in Good's telephone call records. Bower subsequently lied to his wife, who didn't want him to purchase the ultralight plane, and to investigators about his efforts to buy it.
"Not cooperating with authorities was the biggest mistake, and I paid for it with my life," he said. "Someone is going to have to pay for the lives of those four men, and right now, I've drawn the short straw."