Texas Executes 67-Year-Old Man, Despite Questions Of His Guilt

Photo: Michael Graczyk/AP Photo.
Update: On June 3, Lester Bower was put to death by lethal injection after more than three decades on death row. He was pronounced dead at just after 6:30 PM. Bower, who was 67, became the oldest man to be executed by the state since it resumed the death penalty in 1982. He's always maintained his innocence.

This story was originally published on June 3, 2015.

Wednesday night at 6 p.m., Texas is scheduled to execute Lester Leroy Bower for a 1983 quadruple murder. This is his eighth execution date since he was convicted in 1984, which means he has been waiting 31 years to be put to death — and unless the Supreme Court intervenes, he could die without a chance to bring decades' worth of doubts about his case to a jury. Is Texas about to execute an innocent man? Bower was convicted, but that is never the final word in death penalty cases.
Bower's case has been making its way through the appeals process since his sentencing. According to an excellent look at the case by the Intercept, his lawyers have uncovered evidence that prosecutors withheld important information from his original attorney. Witnesses have also apparently come forward to identify the real killers, and doubts have been raised about the quality of Bower's defense. These problems have not been enough to sway the courts to give Bower a new trial, and Texas' execution record offers little hope of a reprieve. The Supreme Court has also been extremely reluctant to step in and stop executions. Texas has carried out seven lethal injections already this year, only three short of its 2014 total. Bower's case isn't even the only questionable one to come up this year. In February, the state court of appeals stayed the execution of Rodney Reed because it found there was enough evidence of his innocence to warrant a new trial. And, an investigation by The New Yorker published in 2009 concluded that Texas has almost certainly already executed an innocent person. A study published last year concluded that one out of every 25 people put to death in the U.S. is innocent. Meanwhile, Texas officials recently bought a new supply of the drugs used for executions, despite the fact that botched executions in other states have raised serious questions about whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court heard arguments in a case about this question in April. It is expected to hand down a decision this month. In the meantime, states are taking different approaches to capital punishment. Utah decided to bring back firing squads if it runs out of lethal injection drugs, while Nebraska got rid of the death penalty entirely.

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