Paul Powell’s attorneys argue his death sentence should be overturned for reasons ranging from misconduct by prosecutors to a juror consulting a Bible during the sentencing phase of Powell’s trial.
In an appeal filed late last week, Powell’s defense attorneys James G. Connell III and Jonathan P. Sheldon asked the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn Powell’s sentence and conviction, or send the case back to Prince William for a new trial.
Powell, 26, was tried twice in Manassas for a January 1999 attack on two teenage sisters, Kristie and Stacie Reed. Powell fatally stabbed Stacie in their Yorkshire home before raping and stabbing Kristie, who survived and testified at both of Powell’s trials.
The Virginia Supreme Court overturned Powell’s 2000 capital conviction and death sentence, ruling that Prince William prosecutors could charge Powell with no higher crime than first-degree murder. Under Virginia law, strict requirements must be met for a murder to qualify as capital murder. The Court ruled that Powell’s case didn’t meet the capital requirements.
But between the Court’s decision and Powell’s scheduled first-degree murder trial, the gloating killer sent Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert a letter, ridiculing Ebert and describing exactly what he did to the Reed sisters Jan. 29, 1999.
In the letter Powell provided new evidence prosecutors used to charge him with capital murder again.
Powell’s attorneys argue in the appeal that Prince William prosecutors acted vindictively in prosecuting Powell for capital murder the second time. In his appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, Sheldon cites newspaper articles describing Ebert and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James A. Willett’s emotional words and expressions during arguments to the second jury to deliberate Powell’s life.
“Because the Commonwealth sought greater charges after Powell’s successful appeal, a presumption arises that the Commonwealth acted with prosecutorial vindictiveness,” according to the appeal. “In addition … the timing, nature of communications, and statements by Commonwealth’s Attorney Ebert demonstrate that the Commonwealth acted with genuine animus toward Powell, and that the animus was responsible for Powell’s second capital prosecution.”
Powell’s attorneys argue this vindictiveness violates Powell’s due process rights, guaranteed by the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the constitution.
Tuesday, Ebert denied the claim.
“I don’t have any more ill will towards Mr. Powell than anyone else I prosecute,” Ebert said.
The appeal also claims the Prince William prosecutors acted unethically when they allowed or encouraged former Prince William County Police Detective Richard J. Leonard to interview Powell without contacting Powell’s defense attorneys first.
Leonard interviewed Powell several times during the investigation, including at Sussex I State Prison in Waverly after Powell sent Ebert the letter.
“We just don’t agree with that position,” Ebert said Tuesday.
The defense objected to other interviews Leonard and Powell had because Powell was under anxiety medication at the time of the interviews.
Sheldon expressed particular concern about Powell’s sentencing hearing. The defense argues that Ebert’s and Willett’s arguments at Powell’s 2003 sentencing hearing were unconstitutional. The prosecutors shouldn’t have told jurors that Powell deserved the death sentence, according to the appeal.
The defense also raises the issue of double jeopardy, as Powell’s earlier appeals have done. The Constitution bars prosecutors from twice placing a defendant’s life in jeopardy for the same crime.
The attorney general’s staff successfully argued in an earlier appeal hearing that Powell was tried for different crimes: his 2000 trial charged him with murdering Stacie Reed while raping her sister Kristie.
The Supreme Court ruled these two separate crimes and said Powell could only be charged with the first-degree murder of Stacie. In his 2002 trial, Powell was charged with the capital murder of Stacie, committed while he attempted to rape Kristie.
Perhaps the most atypical argument raised is one of outside influence of a juror. According to the appeal, one of the jurors carried a Bible throughout the trial and referred to it during deliberations of Powell’s sentence. Ebert said he didn’t recall if any of the jurors had carried a Bible.