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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Death Row Inmate Appeals to 5th Circuit

HOUSTON (CN) - A death-row inmate who murdered his parents has appealed to the 5th Circuit after failing to convince a federal judge in Texas to delay his execution.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes refused to stay the execution of 43-year-old convicted murderer Michael Yowell, who remains scheduled for lethal injection on Wednesday, Oct. 9.

Yowell shot his father and strangled his mother before setting their house on fire in Lubbock, Texas, on May 19, 1998. His grandmother later died from injuries sustained in the same fire. A jury sentenced Yowell to death in 1999.

Yowell and two other death-row inmates sued Texas Department of Criminal Justice directors Brad Livingston and William Stephens; James Jones, senior warden at the TDCJ's Huntsville prison, where executions take place; and unknown executioners in Federal Court.

The inmates question the state's plan to use pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy, claiming that the compounded version of the drug could lead to a painful death in violation of their constitutional rights.

"The single issue is cruelty," according to a five-page order Hughes issued over the weekend.

"Execution by injecting pentobarbital is no longer controversial at law," the judge wrote. "During the hearing, Yowell conceded that he has no objection to this drug. His only issue is whether Texas's current supply of pentobarbital has a demonstrated risk of severe pain because it was acquired from a compounding pharmacy rather than a manufacturer. This risk must be shown to be substantial compared to known alternatives."

But the arguments presented by Yowell and his co-plaintiffs, Thomas Whitaker and Perry Williams, were not enough to secure a preliminary injunction. Of the three men, Yowell is the only one with a scheduled execution date.

Whitaker was sentenced to death in March 2007 after his conviction for arranging the murder of his mother and brother so he could collect a $1 million inheritance. His father survived the shooting.

Williams received a death sentence in June 2002 for shooting a man in the head during a robbery in Houston.

Notice of Yowell's appeal to the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit was filed on Monday. In the meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up his application for a stay of execution.

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