A federal judge in Lubbock on Wednesday cleared the way for Michael Yowell to be put to death. An execution date has not been set and Yowell might have other avenues of appeal.
Yowell was convicted and condemned by a Lubbock jury in 1998 for the double murder of his parents. Their badly burned bodies were found after a house explosion and fire.
Yowell appealed at both the state and federal levels. In his federal appeal, he claimed that his defense team was inadequate enough to actually violate his Constitutional rights.
In 2010, U.S. District Judge Cummings was critical of defense attorneys Jack Stoffregen and Mark Fesmire in his ruling. It said 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."
The State of Texas appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which disagreed with Cummings and sent the case back to Lubbock.
On Wednesday, Cummings followed the instructions of the Fifth Circuit and issued a completely different ruling. The new one says even if the defense was insufficient "Yowell failed to demonstrate that it prejudiced his defense."
The new ruling also says, "Yowell even instructed his counsel not to take any action that would result in the possibility of a life sentence because he wanted a death sentence."
In addition to other claims, Yowell has brought up the issue of mental health. So far, the state and federal appeals courts have not been swayed.
The Lubbock County District Attorney's office can now take the case back to a State District Judge and request an execution date.
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