NEW BOSTON, Texas — A man who shot and killed a Simms, Texas, man in his home in 1988 was sentenced Thursday to eight years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.
Lee Morris Hamburg, 52, was found guilty by a jury, but a surprising turn of events during their deliberations led to formal resolution of the case with a plea bargain. In 1988, Hamburg, who was then 21 years old, fatally shot 53-year-old Gene Downs as he slept on a couch in his home.
Hamburg testified Wednesday that Downs sexually assaulted him while he was intoxicated and unable to resist Oct. 23, 1988.
On Thursday, a 71-year-old man who claims Downs molested him after giving him alcohol during a camping trip decades ago came forward and gave testimony outside the presence of the jury, further bolstering Hamburg's claim of sexual assault. The man clutched a copy of the Gazette as he told the court he felt he must come forward and give the account that he had kept secret since he was a teen.
The state and defense then met and negotiated a plea arrangement for Hamburg for an eight-year term.
Members of Downs' family were in court for the trial and consented to the plea agreement after meeting with First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp and Assistant D.A. Lauren Richards.
Hamburg was identified as a suspect in the case in 2018 after the FBI updated its fingerprint system. Hamburg was identified as the source of a print collected in 1988 from an ashtray in Downs' home.
Bowie County Sheriff James Prince, who was working as an investigator in 1988, testified Wednesday that he and Bowie County Capt. Robby McCarver traveled to Rocklin, California, in April 2018 and met with Hamburg at a local police department. Hamburg denied knowing Downs and denied ever being in Simms during the California interview.
After acquiring a sample of Hamburg's DNA, investigators were able to link him to a cigarette butt found with Downs' car on the morning of Oct. 23, 1988. The car was discovered on the east end of Bowie County in a ditch with the windshield wipers on and the ignition running. The discovery of Downs' car led to the discovery of his body.
Hamburg was arrested in California in 2019 and extradited to Texas. Hamburg told McCarver during an interview April 1, 2019, that when he came to at Downs' home after a night of drinking in 1988, he was hurting and had Vaseline on his body. He said he retrieved Downs' handgun from a cabinet drawer and shot him multiple times before stealing his car and wallet.
Hamburg testified he was hitchhiking from California to his grandmother's home in Paris, Texas, when Downs gave him a ride. Investigators believe he stayed at Downs' home for a couple of weeks before the shooting.
While the jury's verdict was superseded by the plea bargain, their finding that Hamburg was guilty of voluntary manslaughter and not murder shows they believed the defendant acted with "sudden passion." The jury rejected Texarkana defense lawyer Bart Craytor's argument that he acted in self-defense. Self-defense requires the presence of imminent danger, which Downs likely did not present while sleeping on a couch.
Voluntary manslaughter is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison. As part of the plea bargain, the state abandoned an enhancement for a prior felony conviction, which would have increased the punishment range to five to 99 years or life.
Hamburg will receive credit for the time he has spent in jail since his arrest in March 2019 and will be eligible for parole before serving the full eight-year term.
After Hamburg's plea was accepted by 202nd District Judge John Tidwell, the jury was informed of the unexpected development in the case and released from service.
Craytor, Hamburg's lawyer, said he believes justice was served.
"I believe in the jury system and thank the jurors for their service. I also thank the gentleman who came forward with the information about being molested ," Craytor said. "I am so glad we have open and public courtrooms as that gentleman would never have known to come forward without the Texarkana Gazette's dedication to inform the public. We were able to resolve this case to the satisfaction of the state and the defendant."
Craytor said he was contacted Thursday by a fellow lawyer who is acquainted with the 71-year-old man who came forward.
Crisp, who led the prosecution, agreed that the case's resolution was just.
"Our county citizens, having heard the evidence, determined that Lee Hamburg acted in sudden passion and was guilty of manslaughter rather than murder. In a surprise, the parties became aware of additional evidence after the jury began deliberations," Crisp said.
"In Texas, no legal mechanism exists to stop a jury to introduce new evidence once deliberations have begun. In light of these developments, after the jury found Hamburg guilty, the state met with the victim's family and agreed to a negotiated sentence of eight years incarceration. As this family has been waiting for over 30 years for a resolution, it is easy to understand how they are eager for closure and to move forward with their lives. In all, the Bowie County District Attorney's office is confident that our system of justice, which exists to guarantee all of our rights, worked in this case and a fair and just outcome was attained today."