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PHOENIX -- An Arizona death row inmate convicted of murdering two teenage girls in rural Cochise County two decades ago is a step closer to being executed as scheduled on Dec. 5.

A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel on Thursday night denied Richard Dale Stokley's request for a hearing. He claimed that he received ineffective legal representation early in the appeals process regarding possible evidence that would support leniency in sentencing.

Stokley argued that his lawyer at the time didn't adequately raise the issue. A judge on the three-person panel said Stokley was entitled to a hearing because he showed there was an indication that his former lawyer had abandoned Stokley's interests.

However, the panel's other two judges said the Arizona Supreme Court apparently did consider the possible evidence of his good behavior in jail and his difficult childhood, and that Stokley hadn't proved he was actually harmed.

Stokley was sentenced to death for the 1991 killings of Mandy Meyers and Mary Snyder, two 13-year-old girls who were raped and strangled.

Dale Baich, a federal public defender now helping to represent Stokley, said Stokley's lawyers will ask the 9th Circuit to reconsider the panel's ruling. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was also possible, Baich said.

The U.S. high court has issued several recent rulings on claims of ineffective legal representation, so the justices could agree to consider an appeal by Stokley, he said.

Stokley has said he won't ask a state board for clemency because such a request would be futile.

Randy Brazeal, another man convicted in the killings, was released in July 2011 after serving a 20-year sentence.

Associated Press,

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