NEW BOSTON, Texas — A man on trial for murder testified Wednesday that he killed a Simms, Texas, man in 1988 because he sexually assaulted him while he was intoxicated.
Lee Morris Hamburg, 52, is accused of shooting 53-year-old Gene Downs of Simms, Texas, multiple times Oct. 23, 1988. Hamburg was 21.
Both the state and defense rested Wednesday afternoon.
Hamburg was identified as a suspect in the murder in 2018 after an updated FBI system returned a hit on a fingerprint collected from an ashtray at the murder scene 30 years before, Bowie County Sheriff James Prince testified under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards. Hamburg was arrested in Rocklin, California, last year and extradited to Texas to face the charge.
Prince said he was working for the sheriff's office as an investigator in 1988 when his brother, who also worked for the sheriff's office, happened upon Downs' car stuck in a ditch on a dirt road in the east end of Bowie County. The ignition was running and the wipers were on when Downs' abandoned 1984 Chyrsler Fifth Avenue was found.
Prince said a member of Downs' family and a constable went to check on Downs after his car was discovered. Downs was found lying on a couch near the front door wearing only his underwear. He had been shot twice in the head and twice in the torso.
Prince said Downs' wallet was found near the car but that some of the contents were found under a bush some distance away. Among items collected as evidence from around the car was a cigarette butt which when tested last year, was found to have Hamburg's DNA. The evidence linked Hamburg to both scenes.
BCSO Capt. Robby McCarver testified under questioning by First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp that he and Prince traveled to Rocklin in April 2018.
"I wanted to interview him and I wanted a sample of his DNA," McCarver said.
Locklin police contacted Hamburg and asked him to come to the police department under the ruse that Hamburg might be an identity theft victim. In a videotaped interview with Prince and McCarver in Rocklin played for the jury Wednesday, Hamburg denies ever being in Simms, denies knowing Downs and claims he has never held a firearm.
Hamburg appears nervous in the interview and provided no explanation for his fingerprint on the ashtray collected from Hamburg's home.
McCarver testified that near the end of the 30-hour trip to Texas from California last year, Hamburg began to ask questions. McCarver said they were just outside DeKalb, Texas, when Hamburg broke down in tears and said he didn't want to spend the rest of his life in prison.
After arriving in New Boston, Hamburg was interviewed a second time at the sheriff's office in the Bowie County courthouse. Hamburg's demeanor was subdued compared to his first interview about a year before in California.
In the second interview, Hamburg said he was hurting when he woke and that Vaseline was on his body.
"I got it (Hamburg's pistol) and I saw him sleeping on the couch and I went and I shot him," Hamburg said with emotion on the video. "Because of what he did to me."
While on the stand Wednesday, Hamburg said he was hitchhiking from California to Paris, Texas, where his grandmother lived, when Downs stopped to give him a ride. Hamburg said Downs took him to his home in Simms, allowed him to shower and gave him food and a place to stay.
In opening statements, Craytor said Hamburg was hitchhiking after being released from prison in California on a burglary charge.
Hamburg claimed Downs had promised to drive him to Paris but kept delaying the trip. Hamburg testified that he had only been at Downs' home for a few days before the shooting.
Under cross examination by Crisp, Hamburg denied that he had gone to a now defunct bar, the Crossover, in Texarkana, Texas. A witness in 1988 reported that Downs had been in the bar Oct. 20, 1988, with a young man in his 20s. A copy of the membership card Downs filled out had the name, "Morris Lee Downs," written above Downs' name on the card. McCarver said a witness in the bar in 1988 said Downs identified a young man with him as his son but the witness knew Downs, a known homosexual, didn't have a son.
Crisp addressed the possibility that Hamburg may claim self-defense or sudden passion as a defense to first-degree murder. Crisp asked Hamburg why he didn't just walk out the door and start hitchhiking again and asked him about the steps he took to retrieve Hamburg's pistol from a drawer in a cabinet in a hallway.
The jury of eight women and four men was placed in an evening recess Wednesday afternoon by 202nd District Judge John Tidwell with instructions to return to court Thursday morning to hear closing arguments. After the jury was excused, Crisp, Richards and Craytor worked together to craft the instructions Tidwell will read the jury before their deliberations on the law they must follow.
If the jury is allowed to consider sudden passion and if they find such played a role in the murder, the punishment range Downs faces could be lowered to that of a second-degree felony, two to 20 years. Murder is typically punishable by five to 99 or life.