Man gets 8-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter in 1988 shooting

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NEW BOSTON, Texas: A 1988 cold case was resolved with a plea bargain Thursday after an unexpected twist in the case.

Lee Morris Hamburg, 52, of California, was charged with murder in the Oct. 23, 1988 shooting of Gene Downs. Downs, 53, was found dead on a couch in his Simms, Texas, house after his car was found running miles away in a ditch with the wipers on.

In 2018 the FBI updated its fingerprint database and got a hit on a print taken from an ashtray in Downs’ house in 1988. After getting a sample of Hamburg’s DNA, investigators were able to link him to Downs’ stolen car through a cigarette butt found on the ground next to it in 1988.

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Hamburg claimed he shot Downs because he sexually assaulted him while he was intoxicated. Hamburg claimed he got Downs’ gun after he sobered up and shot Downs as he slept on the living room couch in his underwear. Hamburg was hitchhiking when Downs picked him up and he stayed at Downs’ house for some days before the shooting.

While the jury was deliberating, Hamburg’s attorney, Bart Craytor of Mount Pleasant, Texas, informed 202nd District Judge John Tidwell of new evidence. Craytor said he was contacted by another attorney who had been contacted by a man who claims Downs molested him when he was younger. The man testified that he wanted to come forward after reading media accounts of Hamburg’s trial.

The 71-year-old man said he was molested by Downs as a teenager on a camping trip after Downs gave him alcohol.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty to voluntary manslaughter and not guilty of murder. First Assistant District Attorney said the jury’s verdict indicates they believe Hamburg acted with sudden passion when he killed Downs.

Crisp said she and Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards met with the victim’s family and they consented to allow the state to present Hamburg with a plea offer for eight years. Hamburg then pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and received an eight-year sentence.

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