Texas Attorney General
Media Advisory: Michael Yowell scheduled for
October 2, 2013
AUSTIN – Pursuant to a court order by the
140th District Court of Lubbock County, Texas, Michael John
Yowell is scheduled for execution after 6 p.m. on Wednesday,
Oct. 9, 2013.
On Oct. 4, 1999, a Lubbock County jury
convicted Yowell of the capital murder of his parents, Johnny
and Carol Yowell. Following two days of punishment phase
proceedings, on Oct. 6, 1999, the convicting court sentenced
Yowell to death.
FACTS OF THE CRIME
The United States Court of Appeals for the
Fifth Circuit described the murders of Johnny and Carol Yowell
In 1998, Yowell shot and killed his father,
strangled his mother, and opened a natural gas line in the
kitchen. When his grandmother, who was living in his parents’
house at the time, opened her bedroom door, it caused the gas to
combust, fatally injuring his grandmother and charring the
remains of his parents. Two days later, Yowell confessed to
shooting his father, who had caught Yowell trying to steal his
wallet to buy drugs, and to struggling with his mother before
bludgeoning her and strangling her. Yowell said that afterwards,
in a panic, he ran to the kitchen and opened a gas jet.
PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY
Under Texas law, the rules of evidence
prevent certain prior criminal acts from being presented to a
jury during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial. However,
once a defendant is found guilty, jurors are presented
information about the defendant’s prior criminal conduct during
the second phase of the trial – which is when they determine the
During the punishment phase of Yowell’s
capital murder trial, the prosecution presented evidence
establishing Yowell’s felony convictions for burglary of a
building and possession of a controlled substance. Yowell’s
probation officer testified that Yowell was released from prison
to a halfway house, had attempted various programs over the
years for drug treatment and mental disorders, and had been
recently reported to be in violation of the terms of his parole
based on new offenses in March 1998 (two months before the
capital offense) including forgery, stolen checks, and illegal
use of credit cards.
The jurors also learned that Yowell, a
convicted felon, had used his mother’s credit card to purchase
prohibited firearms from three different stores and falsified
information in order to purchase or pawn the weapons. Finally,
five days before the capital crime, Yowell signed a statement
admitting that he stole from his mother by forging checks and
illegally used her credit cards.
On July 23, 1998, a Lubbock County grand jury
indicted Yowell for the May 9, 1998, Mother's Day weekend
capital murder of Johnny and Carol Yowell. Yowell was also
charged with the felony murder of his grandmother, Viola Davis.
On Oct. 4, 1999, a Lubbock County jury
convicted Yowell of capital murder for having intentionally and
knowingly shot his father to death during the same criminal
episode in which he strangled his mother with an electrical
Following a separate punishment hearing, on
Oct. 6, 1999, the jury answered affirmatively the special
sentencing issue on future dangerousness and answered negatively
the issue on mitigation. In accordance with the jury’s answers,
the trial court sentenced Yowell to death.
On Feb. 13, 2002, the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals affirmed Yowell’s conviction and sentence on direct
On July 25, 2001, Yowell filed a state habeas
corpus application raising 10 claims.
On March 13, 2005, the trial court commenced
an evidentiary hearing on Yowell’s claims.
On Nov. 22, 2006, the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals adopted the trial court's findings of fact and
conclusions of law and denied habeas corpus relief.
On Sept. 10, 2007, Yowell filed a federal
habeas petition raising many of the same arguments as in his
state habeas proceedings.
On Aug. 26, 2010, the U.S. District Court for
the Northern District of Texas conditionally granted
punishment-phase relief for a claim of ineffective assistance of
counsel, declined to rule on two claims, and denied the
remaining claims for lack of merit. Final judgment was issued
the same day vacating Yowell’s sentence and remanding for
re-sentencing or imposition of a life sentence.
On Sept. 12, 2011, the United States Court of
Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the grant of habeas
corpus relief and remanded the case for consideration of the two
On remand, on Oct. 3, 2012, the federal
district court denied both claims on the merits, dismissed
Yowell’s habeas petition with prejudice, denied Yowell a
certificate of appealability (COA), and entered final judgment.
On April 16, 2013, the Fifth Circuit court
denied Yowell a certificate of appealability.
On June 3, 2013, the 140th District Court of
Lubbock County, Texas, set Yowell’s execution for
Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013.
On July 12, 2013, Yowell petitioned the U.S.
Supreme Court for certiorari review and applied for a stay of
On October 1, 2013, attorneys for Michael
Yowell, and two other death row inmates, Thomas Whitaker and
Perry Williams, filed a class action lawsuit in Houston U.S.
district court, challenging the constitutionality of Texas'
On October 5, 2013, a U.S. Houston U.S.
district court denied Yowells' request for injunctive relief and
emergency request for stay of execution.
On October 7, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court
denied Yowell's petition for certiorari review.
On October 7, 2013, Yowell Yowell filed
notice appealing the Houston U.S. district court’s order denying
On Oct. 8, 2013, Yowell filed an appeal in
the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, asking
that his execution be stayed pending adjudication of the means
the state plans to use to carry out his execution.
On Oct. 8, 2013,the Fifth Circuit court
affirmed the federal district court’s denial of injunctive
relief and denied Yowell’s motion for stay of execution.
On Oct. 9, 2013, Yowell petitioned the Fifth
Circuit court for certiorari review and a stay of execution.
Yowell tells executioner: 'Punch the
Lubbock man convicted of murdering his
parents executed Wednesday in Huntsville
By Walt Nett - LubbickOnline.com
October 9, 2013
HUNTSVILLE — Michael Yowell, who killed his
parents more than 15 years ago while trying to steal money from
his father to buy drugs, died by lethal injection at 7:11 p.m.,
Wednesday, Oct. 9.
He made a brief last statement: “I love you.
To Gerald, you’re a zero. I love you Mandy; Tiffany, I love you,
He paused for a moment, then said: “Punch the
button. We are ready.”
Yowell, 43, was the 14th inmate the state of
Texas has executed this year, and the second from Lubbock
Mandy and Tiffany referred to his daughters,
who attended the execution.
Gerald may have been in reference to a
witness, Gerald Harder, who attended the execution with the
daughters and Yowell’s ex-wife, Amanda Weathers.
Yowell was taken from a holding cell at 6:42
p.m., shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected one final
attempt to block the execution pending the outcome of a lawsuit
filed last week challenging the state prison system’s use of the
drug pentobarbital obtained from a compounding pharmacy.
Yowell and two other prisoners argued use of
the sedative could cause unconstitutional pain and suffering
because the drug, replacing a similar inventory that expired at
the end of September, was made by a compounding pharmacy not
subjected to strict federal scrutiny.
Texas, like other death penalty states, has
turned to compounding pharmacies that custom-make drugs for
customers after traditional suppliers declined to sell to prison
agencies or bowed to pressure from execution opponents.
The lethal dose of pentobarbital, also known
as Nembutal, was injected into the intravenous catheters at 6:52
Shortly after that, Yowell appeared to
struggle for breath several times before settling into sleep,
inhaling and snoring eight times before his audible breathing
Yowell, 43, became pale.
A prison physician checked for pulse and
breathing and made the pronouncement of death.
Yowell’s reaction to the drug was similar to
the 23 other Texas inmates put to death since last year when the
state began using pentobarbital as the lone lethal drug for
Yowell’s lawyers said the execution was a
disappointment and characterized the use of compounded drugs as
“a dramatic change from prior practice — making the need for
oversight, now and in the future — that much more important.”
“Surely this is not the way we want our
government to carry out its most solemn duty,” Maurie Levin and
Bobbie Stratton said in a statement.
Yowell was convicted in 1999 of killing his
parents, John and Carol Yowell.
No witnesses attended on their behalf.
He told investigators he initially planned to
take a few cigarettes when he entered his parents’ bedroom early
on the morning of May 9, 1998 — the day before Mother’s Day. He
shot his father in the head, then beat his mother before
strangling her with a lamp cord.
Yowell already was on probation for burglary
and drug convictions. He was arrested on federal firearms
charges and charged with his parents’ slayings after authorities
determined his mother had been beaten and strangled and his
father was shot.
“At some point he’s looking his mom in the
face, beating her and wrapping a lamp cord around her neck,”
Lubbock County District Attorney Matt Powell, who prosecuted the
case, recalled Tuesday. “I think always there are some
unanswered questions. You want to know how somebody is capable
of doing that to their parents.”
Evidence showed Yowell had a $200-a-day drug
habit he supported by stealing. Evidence also showed he burned
some of his bloody clothes and hid a blood-stained jacket and
the murder weapon in the crawl space of a friend’s house.
Defense attorneys unsuccessfully tried to show Yowell was
After murdering his parents, Yowell then shut
his grandmother, Viola Davis, in her bedroom before going to the
kitchen and opening a gas jet. The house later exploded, and
Davis was fatally injured, dying 12 days later of burns and
complications from smoke inhalation.
The execution drew national attention because
of the lawsuit over buying pentobarbital from a compounding
Compounding pharmacies are not regulated by
the federal Food and Drug Administration, a situation that has
prompted concerns about the possibility the drugs might be less
Texas and other states that use pentobarbital
as the execution drug have looked for other sources after the
drug’s Danish manufacturer ceased selling it to U.S. prisons for
use as an execution drug.
According to a death watch timetable
distributed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Yowell
spent his final days talking with friends, his ex-wife and his
His breakfast, served shortly after 3 a.m.,
was fried eggs, country gravy, cereal and applesauce. He took
photographs with his daughters and friends who visited in the
Yowell execution set for Wednesday, but
appeals, execution drug issues pending
Condemned to death for killing parents in
By Walt Nett - LubbockOnline.com
October 5, 2013
Looming legal issues could derail the
scheduled execution this week of a Lubbock man convicted in the
murder of his parents 15 years ago.
Michael John Yowell is scheduled to die
Wednesday night, Oct. 9, by lethal injection at the state prison
Between now and then, however, two legal
issues remain unresolved.
Yowell’s final appeal is pending before the
U.S. Supreme Court, which begins its 2013 term Monday, Oct, 7.
It was one of 63 death sentence appeals before the court when it
met last week to weigh more than 1,000 applications for review.
The court is scheduled to release a list of orders — identifying
which cases will be heard and which are rejected — when it
Still other lawyers have asked a federal
judge in Houston for an injunction to halt Yowell’s execution
because the Texas Department of Criminal Justice plans to use
pentobarbitol made at a compounding pharmacy. The state sought a
different source for the drug, also known as Nembutal, after the
drug’s Danish manufacturer refused to sell it to prisons that
are using it as their execution drug. One argument being offered
is because the federal Food and Drug Administration doesn’t
regulate compounding pharmacies, the agency takes no position on
the safety of those drugs that are produced.
Either case could set aside, even
temporarily, Yowell’s appointment to become the 506th inmate
executed in Texas since the death penalty was ruled
constitutional in 1982.
Yowell’s would be the 13th execution this
year at “The Walls,” as the Huntsville prison that houses the
death chamber is known, and the second from Lubbock County after
a four-year hiatus.
And a long time removed from a Saturday
morning more than 15 years ago.
‘Like a war zone’
There is only space — dead grass and a large,
lonely tree, a curb cut and a driveway apron to nothing — where
a house once stood at 2114 39th St. in the Clapp Park
It was Viola Davis’ house, and the house
where John and Carol Yowell died by their younger son’s hand
sometime before 7:45 a.m. May 9, 1998.
The day before Mother’s Day.
The explosion that sundered the Saturday
morning calm was probably the first indication of something
horribly wrong in the house.
One wall was blown out, and the other walls
and roof buckled from the blast.
Two neighbors charged into the rubble and
pulled Davis out, according to media accounts at the time. She
would die a dozen days later in a hospital from burns and
injuries in the blast.
Two other bodies, burned beyond recognition,
were removed from the ruins — John Yowell’s body so badly burned
that, according to reports in the Avalanche-Journal, his gender
wasn’t readily apparent.
Police weren’t sure who they were at that
point, but neighbors insisted the pair were John and Carol
John was 55 years old, his wife, two years
An autopsy would find a bullet wound in John
Yowell’s head. Carol Yowell’s body was found face down, a lamp
cord around her neck and the lamp on her back.
When Michael John Yowell, then 28 years old,
went on trial in September 1999 for the double murder,
prosecutor Matt Powell told the jury that 2114 39th St. “looked
like a war zone.”
On May 9, 1998, however, Lubbock police
considered Michael Yowell what they call today “a person of
A Lubbock police sergeant would only say at
the time police were looking for an unnamed relative to ask him
questions, and to tell him about the explosion — if he didn’t
Two days later, Yowell approached police at
the wrecked house, and he was arrested on a federal warrant on a
charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
He confessed, telling a Lubbock detective and
a federal agent he initially entered his parents’ bedroom to get
Then he saw his father’s wallet on the bed
and tried to grab it, he told Detective Roy Pierce and Felix
Garcia of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco.
He said his mother woke up, apparently
startled, and grabbed his arm. The gun he had in his pocket went
off, and the bullet struck his father.
Later Powell, who prosecuted the case with
the late Rusty Ladd, would argue to the jury that Yowell really
intended to shoot them both, but the handgun malfunctioned.
He told the investigator he didn’t remember
what he did to his mother, but he heard her gurgle and then
According to his taped confession, he got his
coat, closed his grandmother’s bedroom door and opened a natural
gas jet in the kitchen.
Jury selection began with 120 people in
mid-August, and testimony began some six weeks later in District
Judge Jim Bob Darnell’s court.
The two-week trial had several unusual turns
as prosecutors depicted Yowell as an evil person, while his
defense attorney, Jack Stoffregen, tried to press an insanity
defense based on Yowell’s history of drug abuse and treatment
for mental disorders.
His drug addiction, Stoffregen argued,
rendered Yowell incapable of working out moral and ethical
And Stoffregen also put on testimony —
Yowell’s mental health records from Lubbock MHMR — indicating he
was also suicidal and homicidal.
In closing arguments, however, Powell
attacked the insanity defense as another manipulation by Yowell.
Stoffregen’s strategy defense had another
issue — one that would surface in post-conviction reviews.
Darnell refused to let the defense’s intended
witness, psychologist Philip Davis, testify as an expert witness
because Davis had not examined Yowell.
According to court records, Stoffregen said
the defense did not let Davis examine Yowell so the
prosecution’s experts wouldn’t be able to examine him either.
Darnell allowed Davis to read Yowell’s mental
health history into the trial record, but without offering any
kind of analysis or discussion.
And that would provide Yowell with a glimmer
of hope on appeals years later.
But not then. After the seven-man, five-woman
jury took 45 minutes to come back with a guilty verdict, Yowell
told his defense team to not put on a case during the punishment
phase of the trial.
He even debated the point with Darnell,
asking the judge to keep Stoffregen from playing the tape
recording of his confession as part of his closing argument.
Darnell refused, telling Yowell his attorneys
“will make the decision how to proceed, whether you like it or
Yowell replied: “It’s my life, and I should
be making the decisions.”
Stoffregen played the tape, and finished by
telling the jury he believed the confession reflected remorse,
enough remorse that he asked the jury to “step back from the
The jury took two-and-a half hours to come
back with a death sentence.
Yowell’s arguments were rejected by the state
Court of Criminal Appeals on direct appeal, and by Darnell again
in his state habeas corpus petition.
U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings, however,
granted Yowell a reprieve. He ruled in 2010 that Yowell had
received ineffective assistance of counsel, and criticized
Darnell for excluding Davis’ expert testimony in the case.
Cummings wrote: “The evidence in the records
of childhood abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, an alcoholic
father and brother, and exposure to drugs at an early age, as
well as Yowell’s extensive history of ongoing mental illness and
drug abuse, is exactly the kind of evidence that is relevant to
On appeal, Yowell’s attorneys argued the
mental health evidence offered in the guilt phase should have
been presented again in the punishment phase.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed,
saying it would be reasonable to expect a jury to remember that
evidence from the guilt phase to the punishment phase, and noted
Stoffregen had said the decision to not have Davis examine
Yowell was a strategic choice.
Jury chooses death for Yowell
29-year-old faces execution for killing
By Elizaabeth Langton -
Thursday, October 07, 1999
A jury ordered Wednesday that
Michael Yowell be executed for murdering his parents during a
desperate attempt to steal money for drugs and blowing up their
home to conceal the crimes.
The seven-man, five-woman jury
deliberated 21/2 hours before choosing the death penalty over a
life prison term. The same jury took about 45 minutes Monday to
convict Yowell, 29, of capital murder.
Yowell stoically accepted his sentence.
Defense attorney Jack Stoffregen said his client had resigned
himself to the outcome.
''He was expecting it,'' Stoffregen said.
''And as you heard yesterday, that's really kind of what he
On Tuesday, Yowell asked 140th District Judge
Jim Bob Darnell to block Stoffregen's de-fense plan, which
involved re-playing Yowell's taped confession.
''Having them hear that again is not going to
help me in any way,'' Yowell told the judge. ''It's my life.''
While waiting for the jury, Yowell chatted
with family members and appeared unaffected by the proceedings.
He stared straight ahead, barely glancing toward the jury
throughout the trial.
Yowell offered no comment after the verdict.
He could be transferred to death row within 30 days.
After a 24-hour drug binge, Yowell shot his
father and strangled his mother while trying to steal money from
them on May 9, 1998. John Yowell, 55, and Carol Yowell, 53, were
found dead amid the rubble of their charred home after an early
Carol Yowell's mother, 89-year-old Viola
Davis, survived the fire but later died.
Family members who attended the trial
declined to speak with reporters.
''I think there were mixed emotions among the
family,'' prosecutor Matt Powell said. ''But they have supported
us from start to finish.''
Although pleased with the jury's decision,
Powell feels saddened by the case, he said.
''We feel that was justice, but it was
nothing to be happy about,'' he said.
Criminal District Attorney Bill Sowder said
the extreme nature of the case led prosecutors to seek the death
''We don't pursue it on every case that's
available; we really look hard at the case and the background,''
he said. ''The effort was to see that justice was done. We're
not about ... going after the death penalty without good
Prosecutor Rusty Ladd said, ''The evidence in
this case demanded that we seek the death penalty.''
Yowell drifted in and out of drug dependency
for at least 10 years. He stole from his parents and grandmother
to support his $200-a-day habit.
In the two months before the murders, Yowell
stole his father's wallet, cashed forged checks on his
grandmother's bank account and purchased three guns with his
mother's credit card, according to court testimony.
Yowell went to prison for three months in
1989 for a burglary conviction and received probation for a drug
possession charge. Three days before killing his parents, Yowell
learned that his probation officer was reporting him for
violations and that he likely would return to prison.
When arguing for the death sentence, Powell
told the jury that Yowell blamed his parents for his problems.
Yowell reportedly told a friend, ''All of my
problems would be solved if I just blew up my parents,'' Powell
The defense argued that long-term mental
illness and drug addiction rendered Yowell unable to determine
right from wrong.
As his parents slept, Yowell shot his father
in the head and planned to shoot his mother, Powell said. But
the gun would not fire again, and a violent struggle ensued
between mother and son.
Yowell struck his mother in the head with a
soft drink can and attacked her with a knife. He eventually
wrapped a lamp cord around her neck and strangled her for at
least five minutes.
Crime scene photos show the lamp resting on
the back of Carol Yowell's charred body.
''Most people look at that picture and they
turn away; it's a horrible thing,'' Powell told the jury during
sentencing arguments. ''Can you imagine living through it and
dying through it?''
After killing his parents, Yowell opened a
natural gas valve, shut his grandmother's bedroom door and left
When neighbors heard the explosion, they
rescued Davis from her burning bedroom. She slowly suffocated
over the next two weeks from internal burn injuries, prosecutors
Yowell faces a pending murder charge for his
grandmother's death, which the CDA's office probably will not
prosecute, Sowder said.
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys
expressed optimism about their fates in the appeals process.
For Yowell to receive the death penalty,
prosecutors had to prove two issues that he would continue to
commit acts of violence in prison and that no mitigating
circumstances existed that made the death sentence
Lubbock man found
guilty in parents' murders
The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 5, 1999
LUBBOCK (AP) - It took a
jury less than an hour Monday to convict a 29-year-old man of
killing his parents.
A defense attorney said
Michael Yowell was insane when he shot his father in the head,
strangled his mother with a lamp cord and blew up the family
Jurors didn't believe the
argument. They will decide today whether Yowell should spend
life in prison or receive lethal injection for the May 1998
The charred corpses of
John Yowell, 55, and Carol Yowell, 53, were strewn amid the
rubble of their home after an early morning explosion.
Carol Yowell's mother,
89-year-old Viola Davis, also was in the house when her grandson
opened a gas valve and took off into the night. The elderly
woman died two weeks later of burns and smoke inhalation.
Yowell has been charged
with her murder but that case has not gone to trial.
Prosecutor Matt Powell
said Yowell planned to shoot his parents, but his gun broke
during the confrontation.
Instead, Yowell attacked
his mother with a knife, then wrapped a lamp cord around her
neck and strangled her for at least five minutes, Powell said.
Yowell was an alcoholic
and a junkie desperate for drug money at the time of the
slayings, defense lawyer Jack Stoffregen told the courtroom.
Stoffregen argued that Yowell was incapable of sorting out moral
or ethical questions because of his drug addiction.
For seven years before the
slayings, Yowell bounced between rehabilitation and mental
But the prosecution
labeled him a mass murderer and urged a no-mercy approach.
another lie by Michael Yowell," Powell said. "You think he
didn't know he was doing something wrong?"
found dead after house explosion; police searching for man
Babineck / Associated Press Writer
Sunday, May 10,
LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) -- Authorities found a
couple's badly burned remains Saturday after part of their home
was obliterated in a suspicious early-morning explosion. Police
are seeking one man for questioning.
Autopsies will be performed Monday on the
victims, whom neighbors identified as the home's residents,
Johnny and Carol Yowell. But police Sgt. John Gomez declined to
name them because relatives hadn't been notified.
The couple were burned beyond recognition
after a blast that appeared to occur near their bedroom blew out
the walls around 7:45 a.m.
"There's some suspicion surrounding their
cause of death," Gomez said. "Hopefully, the autopsy will
provide more information."
He said authorities are searching for a
relative whom neighbors identified as Michael Yowell. Gomez said
they sought him simply to ask him questions and to inform him of
the explosion if he wasn't aware of it yet.
Gomez did not name Yowell a suspect in the
blast, which also injured his 89-year-old grandmother, Viola
Davis. Ms. Davis was in stable condition Saturday night at
University Medical Center in Lubbock.
The cause of the explosion was under
investigation by city fire marshals, Gomez said.
"It may take several days or weeks before we
find what the cause was," he said. "They will do tests to see if
there was some type of accelerant."
After hearing the explosion, which left other
walls in the house buckled, the roof badly sagging and windows
next door blown in, neighbors Charles McMillan and Greg Songer
raced into the rubble and rescued Ms. Davis.
"Anytime you lose a friend, it doesn't have
to be kinfolk, it hurts," McMillan, a next-door neighbor who
described himself as close to the Yowells, told the Lubbock
Avalanche-Journal. "But they were like kinfolk, they were
neighbors. We saw them all the time."