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Defendant in 1988 murder pleads not guilty

Defendant in 1988 murder pleads not guilty

May 20th, 2019 by Lynn LaRowe in Texarkana News

Lee Morris Hamburg

The defendant accused of shooting a Simms, Texas, man to death more than three decades ago pleaded not guilty to murder Monday.

Lee Morris Hamburg, 52, appeared for arraignment with Texarkana lawyer Bart Craytor before 202nd District Judge John Tidwell. Craytor entered a plea of not guilty on Hamburg's behalf to murder in the death of 53-year-old Gene Downs. Craytor said he received discovery, or copies of the state's evidence, Friday but has not yet received an offer from the state for a possible plea agreement.

Hamburg was identified in May 2018 by the FBI as the source of a fingerprint collected Oct. 23, 1988, at the scene of the murder by the Bowie County Sheriff's Office, according to a probable cause affidavit. The FBI informed BCSO on May 2 that they had recently re-analyzed the unidentified evidence from 1988 after updating its fingerprint system.

At the time of Downs' murder, Bowie County Sheriff James Prince was working as an investigator for the agency he now leads. Prince and other investigators called to Downs' home observed Downs' body, clad in only a pair of white briefs, lying on the sofa. Downs had been shot multiple times and spent bullets appeared to come from a .38 caliber weapon.

A .38 caliber pistol was missing from Downs' home as was Downs' car, a 1984 Chrysler Fifth Avenue. The car was later found running, wiper blades on, in an area in Bowie County's east end. A cigarette butt collected from the car in 1988 was submitted last year for testing in hopes of finding DNA.

In November, the lab notified BCSO that it recovered a DNA profile from the cigarette butt.

"The newly identified DNA was recovered from the secondary crime scene and likely links the suspect to both locations," the affidavit states.

Investigators determined that Hamburg was arrested in 1989, when he was 22, in Paris, Texas. Investigators requested a copy of Hamburg's old mugshot to compare to descriptions of a man who had been seen with Downs at a local electronics store and a nightclub a few days before the murder. Downs' mugshot from 1989 appeared to match the description given by witnesses in 1988.

During the investigation in 1988, a witness at a now-defunct nightclub called the Crossover told investigators Down had been in the bar the night of Oct. 20, 1988, with a man in his 20s who he claimed was his son. A copy of a membership purchased the night Downs was seen at the Crossover with the younger man had the name "Morris Lee Downs," which appears to be an amalgamation of Hamburg's and Downs' names.

The clerk at an electronic's store where Downs purchased a movie camera described the younger man he was with as having a tattoo on the back of one hand that appeared to be a cross with some dots. When Prince and Investigator Robby McCarver interviewed Hamburg in April at a police station in Rockland, Calif., they noticed a faded tattoo on the back of Hamburg's left hand, according to the affidavit.

Hamburg allegedly denied knowing Downs or ever being in his home and allegedly claimed he has never handled a gun. Hamburg was arrested in California earlier this month.

If convicted of murder, Hamburg faces five to 99 years or life in prison. Court records show Hamburg's bail is set at $500,000. Tidwell scheduled the case for a pretrial hearing June 17.

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