Max Soffar

Harris County, Texas
Date of Crime:  July 13, 1980

Max Alexander Soffar was convicted of murdering Arden Alane Felsher, 17, Tommy Lee Temple, 17, and Stephen Allen Sims, 25, during a robbery of the Fair Lanes Windfern Bowling Center. He was sentenced to death. Soffar, 24, a mentally impaired individual, confessed to the murders after hours of police interrogation. No physical evidence connected him to the crime. A fourth victim, Gregory Garner, survived a gunshot wound to the head but failed to identify Soffar as a participant in the robbery.

Soffar had been caught in neighboring Galveston County with a stolen motorcycle and was looking for a plea deal by claiming to know something about the famous murders that occurred three weeks before. He also wanted to get revenge against his friend, Latt Bloomfield, who resembled a police sketch of the murderer. Both Soffar and Bloomfield had agreed to rob their parents' houses, but Bloomfield reneged after they burglarized the home of Soffar's parents.

Soffar first spoke only with Bruce Clawson, a local detective that he knew. Clawson got Soffar to talk to Houston detectives. Soffar made three statements to detectives that grew in detail during the three days he was interviewed. Neither Clawson, nor his brother Mike, who was a policeman in the area, believed the statements. Clawson said, “I specifically recall believing that Max's responses to these questions (posed by Houston detectives) were vague and unconvincing.” “Max certainly said nothing during the interrogations I witnessed which indicated to me that Max knew things about the bowling-alley murders that only a person involved in the offense would know.” Soffar soon disavowed his statements and later wrote that they were the result of relentless and pushy Houston detectives.

The federal Fifth Circuit Court overturned Soffar's conviction in 2004. It cited ineffective representation by Soffar's trial attorney, Joe Cannon, the famous “sleeping lawyer.” Cannon did not even call surviving victim Garner as a witness. The court also cited at least 10 major discrepancies between Soffar's confession and Garner's recollection of events. Garner, for instance, said there was only one robber, but Soffar said Bloomfield accompanied him. Garner said the robber wore nothing to hide his face, while Soffar said he and Bloomfield covered their heads.

Garner said the robber gained entrance to the bowling alley, which had just closed, by feigning car trouble and asking the manager if he could come in to fill a plastic jug with water. Soffar said he and Bloomfield simply walked through an unlocked front door. Crime-scene photos showed a plain jug on the counter, but a cleaning crew washed it before police realized its possible significance. Soffar said he and Bloomfield had burglarized the bowling alley the night before to gain more knowledge of the place. The burglary had been reported in television accounts of the crime. However, police had already arrested some area youths in connection with the burglary before Soffar was arrested.

Prosecutors contend Soffar made an admission that corroborates his presence in the bowling alley. Soffar said that Bloomfield fired a warning shot into the floor. That shot, they said, accounted for a bullet hole in the carpet that did not match up with an exit wound from one of the bodies. However, detailed ballistics indicates the carpet hole came from a fragment of an exit wound bullet that shattered after it hit the cement floor under the carpet. In addition, for there to have been a warning shot, five shots would had to have been fired. Garner recalled only four. Soffar was retried in 2006, reconvicted, and sentenced to death.  [2/07]


References:  DP News, News Archives

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