LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) – The death penalty portion of a Lubbock capital murder case is overturned by U.S. District Court Judge Sam Cummings. In an opinion and ruling Thursday, Cummings wrote that Michael Yowell had been denied both due process and effective assistance of counsel. The Lubbock County District Attorney's office has six months to either redo the punishment phase of Yowell's trial or impose a sentence of life in prison.
Yowell was convicted of capital murder for killing both his parents in May of 1998. Their badly burned bodies were found after an explosion and fire.
Judge Cummings was critical of defense attorneys Jack Stoffregen and Mark Fesmire in his order, saying in part, "the actions of Yowell's trial counsel in failing to investigate and present compelling mitigation evidence fell so far below the standard of care required of counsel … as to constitute ineffective assistance of counsel." Cummings also said Yowell's rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution were violated.
But Judge Cummings also took aim at 140th State District Judge Jim Bob Darnell. "Yowell was denied due process of law when the trial court denied his expert the opportunity to render an opinion on mental health records admitted without objection."
Stoffregan has since become the Chief Public Defender in the Lubbock-based capital murder public defender program. Stoffregen was not available for comment Friday. KCBD NewsChannel 11 left a message, and if Stoffregen calls back we will follow up with his comments.