- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

LIVINGSTON, Texas (AP) - Attorneys have made a rare clemency request for one of Texas’ longest-serving death row inmates, saying he should be freed before inoperable liver cancer soon takes his life.

Max Soffar, 58, has been on death row more than 33 years for a 1980 robbery at a Houston bowling alley where three people were shot and killed and a fourth was maimed. Soffar and his lawyers long have maintained that he’s innocent, although he has been tried, convicted and condemned twice, most recently in 2006.

Soffar told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he “hurts bad … like a squeezing pain on my liver.”

“Nothing can save me, I’m going to die,” Soffar said of the tumor that he said doctors discovered in June. “I’ve talked to my doctor - maybe five months, maybe four months, maybe three weeks.”

There is no precedent, at least in modern times, for the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend to the governor that clemency be granted in a death penalty case under these circumstances. Requests typically are filed as an inmate’s execution is nearing or imminent. Soffar does not have an execution date and an appeal for him remains before a federal court in Houston.

“The reality is that the federal court process will likely not be completed before Mr. Soffar dies,” the lawyers said in the petition. “The exigency of this situation is the driving force behind what Mr. Soffar admits is an unusual request for clemency at this stage of a capital case.”

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office will oppose the request, according to Roe Wilson, an assistant district attorney who handles capital case appeals. The Texas prison system has medical facilities to treat inmates, she said.

“I haven’t seen any medical records verifying anything,” she said. “And while he should be humanely treated, I do not think that means he should be granted compassionate leave so he is given his freedom.”

Soffar’s first conviction was thrown out in 2004 by a federal appeals court panel that agreed with arguments he had deficient legal help at his first trial in 1981. Wilson said Soffar’s second conviction was solid and dismissed arguments from Soffar and his attorneys that a convicted serial killer in Tennessee was responsible for the 1980 crimes.

Jurors decided Soffar should be executed for killing Arden Alane Felsher, 17. Prosecutors said she was fatally shot as Soffar was robbing Stephen Allen Sims, 25, an assistant manager at the Fair Lanes Windfern Bowling Center in Houston. Sims and Felsher’s boyfriend, Tommy Lee Temple, 17, also were killed in the attack.

Gregory George Garner was shot in the head but survived. He lost his left eye and underwent several surgeries.

According to Garner, the attacker came to the front door of the bowling alley after it had closed and told Sims he had car trouble. Sims went outside with the man, and returned to the bowling alley with a gun held against him by the man, who announced it was a holdup. The four were told to lie face down on the floor, and then were shot in the head.

Soffar, then 24, was arrested more than three weeks later for riding a stolen motorcycle. In exchange for leniency, he offered to provide information about the unsolved slayings.

On Wednesday, he said that at the time he was a “mentally ill drug addict,” providing police who manipulated him with false confessions based on information he saw on the TV news.

“They ran with it, and here I sit 35 years later,” he said. “It was my screw-up to even to think this crazy thing up.”

He said he was aware lawyers were considering a clemency petition for him but didn’t know they had followed through.

“I’m grateful that people go out of their way to help me,” he said. “My faith is in God and I refuse to give up.”

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