A Texas inmate set to be executed next week for fatally shooting four men at an airplane hangar more than 30 years ago won a reprieve today from the US Supreme Court. Lester Bower Jr., 67, among the longest-serving Texas death row inmates, had been scheduled for lethal injection Tuesday. The justices gave no reason for the reprieve, saying only that it would be lifted automatically if they deny an appeal or act on it. Bower was convicted in the October 1983 deaths at a Grayson County ranch about 60 miles north of Dallas. Authorities found parts from a small ultralight airplane at the hangar at his home. Prosecutors also tied unusual Italian-made .22-caliber bullets used in the slayings to similar ammunition purchased by Bower, a federally licensed gun dealer. The wife of one victim said the delay was "very frustrating since we were so close. I am hoping once this is done he will be out of options, we can get another death warrant and end this," she said in an email.
In their appeal to the high court, Bower's lawyers said jurors who decided on his death sentence had faulty instructions that didn't allow them to consider mitigating circumstances that he had no criminal record, was a married father of two, college educated and employed as a chemical salesman. Since his 1984 trial, court rulings have refined instructions to Texas capital murder trial juries to account for mitigating circumstances. Several condemned inmates from that era—but not Bower—have received new court-ordered punishment trials. Prosecutors said Bower was obsessed with the aircraft and stole it. Bower has said he was at the hangar to purchase the aircraft and the men were alive when he left. "They can't prove it was stolen and I can't prove I bought it," he said. "They have four dead men. It's too good a story, so they say I stole it." (Read more death row stories.)