Texas inmate to die this week loses federal appeal

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Associated Press

Posted on October 8, 2013 at 8:02 AM

HOUSTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday an appeal from a Texas death row inmate set for execution this week for killing his parents in Lubbock 15 years ago.

Michael Yowell, 43, is set for lethal injection Wednesday in Huntsville. Attorneys unsuccessfully argued Yowell had poor legal help during his trial and in early appeals of his conviction and death sentence.

Yowell was convicted and condemned for the deaths of his father, John, 55, and mother Carol, 53, whose bodies were found in the rubble of their home after an explosion and fire in May 1998. His mother had been strangled and his father was shot.

Yowell's 89-year-old grandmother suffered serious injuries in the blast and fire and died two weeks later.

Yowell confessed to the slayings, saying he needed money to support his $200-a-day drug habit. Prosecutors said he killed his parents, opened a natural gas valve and fled the house. It eventually blew up.

Attorneys also tried to halt the scheduled lethal injection with a civil lawsuit involving Yowell and two other death row prisoners.

A federal district judge in Houston rejected the suit on Saturday and a lawyer in the case said Monday she would appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The prisoners challenged the state's use in executions of pentobarbital obtained from a compounding pharmacy not subjected to usual federal scrutiny, arguing the drug "adds an unacceptable risk of pain, suffering and harm."

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has turned to a compounding pharmacy, which custom makes drugs, because its previous supply of the sedative expired last month. Several companies have been refusing to sell their products for use in executions or have bowed to pressure from capital punishment opponents, leading to a drug shortage in death penalty states and forcing states to switch lethal drugs or use compounding pharmacies.

"Our base line contention is we, the public, have to be concerned about transparency and accountability by a state agency that's carrying out the gravest of all possible duties," an attorney for the inmates, Maurie Levin, said Monday.

"Texans may not like death row inmates demanding constitutional process ... but if we don't enforce them here, just because we don't like the plaintiff, then what's the next place?"

Court filings in the lawsuit showed the owner of a suburban Houston compounding pharmacy that's the source of the prison agency's newly purchased pentobarbital supply is asking to have the drugs returned, saying the sale placed him "in the middle of a firestorm" of the inmates' lawsuit, media inquiries and hate mail and messages.

State attorneys said prison officials did nothing improper.

"Yowell's arguments try to create controversy where none exists," said Edward Marshall, an assistant Texas attorney general.

The drugs were purchased legally and the agency "has no intention of returning the pentobarbital," prison spokesman Jason Clark said Monday.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, in his ruling late Saturday, said Texas was "not obliged to return the drugs," that evidence of cruelty from the drug was weak and that Texas prison officials had not been secretive about the execution process.

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