“When and if we get to the stage of considering the death penalty, I want you to consider this letter,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James A. Willett told jurors considering the capital murder case against Paul Warner Powell Monday afternoon.
The “singular document,” as Willett described it, is the basis for the capital murder charge against Powell, 24, formerly of the Manassas area. Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert received the letter from Powell in September 2001. It described the afternoon of Jan. 29, 1999, when Powell allegedly murdered 16-year-old Stacie Reed and repeatedly stabbed her 14-year-old sister Kristie in their Yorkshire home.
In his opening statement, Willett described Powell as “racist,” espousing the beliefs of the Klu Klux Klan and Adolf Hitler. He allegedly attacked Stacie Reed because she was dating a black boy.
“He happens to be a racist of the finest and highest order,” Willett said. “The fact she wouldn’t have sex with him and was seeing a black boy was more than he could bear.”
In the letter, Powell bragged about attempting to rape Stacie before he stabbed her in the heart and stepped on her throat. That admission led to a new capital murder charge in December 2001. Powell was already serving multiple life sentences in Sussex I State Prison in Waverly after the Virginia Supreme Court overturned an earlier capital conviction. In April 2001, the justices ruled Powell should be charged with first-degree murder instead of capital murder.
In his opening statement to the jury, Willett described the attack upon the Reeds and read portions of Powell’s letter aloud.
“The last thing [Stacie Reed] felt was the pressure of his boot on her throat,” Willett said. “[Kristie Reed comes home] turns into her room and sees what once was her sister.”
Willett described how Powell allegedly forced Kristie into the basement with the hunting knife her sister was killed with. Willett told jurors that Powell bound Kristie’s wrists with her shoelaces before raping her, slashing her wrists and throat and stabbing her in the stomach.
“She was the lucky one,” Willett said.
In his opening statements, defense attorney Mark B. Williams reminded jurors that the defense is not disputing the fact that Powell killed Stacie Reed.
“We’re not going to minimize the Commonwealth’s evidence. This is no whodunnit,” Williams said. “The issue is whether Paul Powell’s confession is true, or whether his letter three years later is true.”
Jury selection lasted more than four hours, as attorneys questioned 30 potential jurors. Prosecutors asked questions relating to the death penalty and interracial dating, among other questions. Defense attorneys asked if potential jurors understood the meaning of life imprisonment without parole.
After 14 jurors were empanelled Monday afternoon, Williams and co-counsel Carroll A. Weimer Jr. renewed their motion to dismiss the capital murder charge on the grounds that the new charge against Powell constituted double jeopardy.
“There is no credible double jeopardy issue,” Ebert argued. “This is a separate and distinct case.”
Ebert also reminded Circuit Court Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. that the defense team had already filed a civil action with the Virginia Supreme Court alleging double jeopardy that was dismissed.
Whisenant denied the request to dismiss the charge. Today the prosecution will bring evidence in their capital case against Powell, and the defense may present evidence on Powell’s behalf. The trial is divided into two parts: a guilt phase and, if found guilty, a sentencing phase. Today the guilt or innocence phase of the trial will continue.