The 24-year-old former death row inmate whose capital murder conviction was overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court last year will again face a capital murder trial after his attorney’s double jeopardy motion was denied Wednesday in Prince William County Circuit Court.
Defense attorneys for Paul Warner Powell had hoped that their client would not have to again face the death penalty in his murder trial that is set for October.
“We believe that it is the instruction of the Supreme Court when they reversed the original decision that you can try him on no more than first-degree murder,” said Defense Attorney Mark B. Williams. “We believe that was their instruction to this court.”
Powell was convicted of capital murder in May 2000 for the Jan. 29, 1999, murder of Stacie Reed, a 16-year-old Yorkshire girl. Stacie’s 14-year-old sister, Kristie Reed, was raped and stabbed when she returned home later that day but survived.
The Virginia Supreme Court stated when it overruled the conviction in April 2001 that the murder of one girl followed by the assault of another does not constitute capital murder.
Powell is serving three life sentences in connection with the rape and attempted murder of Kristie.
Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Herman Whisenant Jr. disagreed with the double jeopardy argument of defense attorneys Williams and Carroll A. Weimer Jr., stating the new evidence on which Powell was indicted last year hadn’t been addressed by the Virginia Supreme Court.
He also stated that the new evidence presented to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office in October 2001, and on which Powell was indicted in December, was enough to allow the case to go forward.
New evidence arose in the case after Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert received a letter from Powell after the Supreme Court overturned the capital conviction.
“Since I have already been indicted on first-degree murder and the Virginia Supreme Court said that I can’t be charged with capital murder again, I figured I would tell you the rest of what happened on Jan. 29, 1999,” stated Powell in his Oct. 21, 2001, letter to Ebert.
In the letter, he describes how he attempted to rape Stacie Reed before stabbing her in her home, evidence the commonwealth didn’t have during the trial.
Virginia law states that a capital murder charge can be brought if someone commits murder in the commission of a felony such as abduction with intent to defile, rape, attempted rape or robbery.
“We have evidence here that says he was attempting to have sex with Stacie when the phone rang and he pulled out the knife,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James A. Willett in court Wednesday.
Prosecutors said that Powell was upset that Stacie, who was white, had began to date a black youth, who Powell suspected was on the phone when it rang.