Powell’s original May 2000 capital murder conviction was overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court in April 2001. The justices ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support a capital murder indictment and that Powell should be tried instead for first-degree murder.
Wednesday, that argument was raised by Powell’s defense team. In order to find Powell guilty of capital murder under this indictment, the jury had to find Powell guilty of attempting to rape 16-year-old Stacie Reed before he murdered her in her Yorkshire home Jan. 29, 1999. The defense agreed that Powell raped and attempted to murder Stacie’s younger sister Kristie, and that Powell murdered Stacie, but said the killing should be considered first-degree, not capital murder.
But a letter Powell wrote Ebert from Sussex I State Prison in Waverly while awaiting his first-degree murder trial included a description of trying to rape Stacie before killing her. In December 2001, Powell was again indicted on a capital murder charge.
“It seems strange that he could take some girl’s life and not face capital murder. But there must be something underlying the murder itself,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said in closing arguments, before arguing such evidence exists.
“There is no physical evidence, no DNA, no clothing fibers. Look at the crime scene photo of poor Stacie in a pool of blood. There is no evidence of attempted rape,” defense attorney Mark B. Williams said in his closing arguments. “I ask you to do the hard thing — think about what you saw and what you didn’t see. Mr. Powell is being punished for that. He’s right where he belongs: in prison.”
“He tells us of that attempt [to rape Stacie] in the letter,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James A. Willett said. “The physical evidence corroborates the letter of how he finally killed her. He literally believed he had gotten away with capital murder. It means that letter is the truth.”
The defense first raised the argument of insufficient evidence Wednesday morning when they opened the third day of Powell’s trial with motions to strike the Commonwealth’s evidence and drop the charge against Powell on double jeopardy grounds.
“It is not proven there was an attempted rape of Stacie. You cannot use an uncorroborated confession [as proof],” defense attorney Carroll A. Weimer Jr. said.
“This case is overwhelming with circumstantial evidence,” Ebert said. “The connotation of the bedroom, the rumpled bed, her pants unzipped, she fought him … What speaks more loudly is the fact he waited for her younger sister.”
Circuit Court Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. denied the defense motions.
Having found Powell guilty of capital murder, the trial continues to the second phase of proceedings, which is sentencing. By Virginia law, jurors recommend a punishment to the court as well as determining the guilt or innocence of a defendant. The jury will decide whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison. The judge may impose a lesser sentence than the jury recommends but may not increase it.
Prosecutors presented additional evidence in the sentencing phase of the trial Wednesday. Lorraine Reed took the stand again to describe the effect of Powell’s attacks on her family. The house on the 8000 block of McLean Street in Manassas was her “dream home,” she said.
“It became a place that was no longer a home. It was a crime scene,” Reed said. She said she and Kristie lived in the house for a year and a half after the attack before moving to an apartment.
Reed and her husband Robert Culver later divorced; they blamed the stress of the attacks’ aftermath.
“We grieve in two different ways — we were basically on two separate tracks,” Reed said.The defense called multiple witnesses who described Powell’s upbringing and mental state, including his parents, younger brother, a juvenile probation officer and an evaluating psychologist.
Powell’s parents described a child who turned into a troublemaker at age 11 or 12. In his teenage years, they petitioned the state to take over his care.
“I was at my wit’s end,” said Cynthia Powell, Paul Powell’s mother. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
Another defense witness was Dr. William J. Stejskal, a clinical psychologist who evaluated Powell before his earlier trial. He described the young Powell’s home environment as “toxic.”
“The pivotal factor was his father, who appears [to] have been emotionally and physically abusive,” Stejskal said.
Stejskal described a “patchwork quilt of counseling and medication” provided to Powell that was ineffective in treating his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and increasing antisocial condition. Stejskal said that Powell has been taking medications since February 1999 to stabilize his mood and psychosis.
“There have been no serious disciplinary infractions since then. He has not exhibited extremes of rage or self-mutilation as he did when he was a teenager,” Stejskal said.
Today, the Commonwealth is expected to bring an out-of-area witness to the stand. More evidence will be presented before closing arguments are made and jury deliberations begin in the sentencing phase of the trial.
Staff writer Maria Hegstad can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 121.