Paul Warner Powell was convicted of capital murder yesterday for the second time in three years, this time by a Prince William County jury that decided he tried to rape a 16-year-old girl before plunging a knife into her heart and then raping her younger sister.
Jurors returned a verdict after less than two hours of deliberations, deciding that Powell told the truth in a vulgarity-laced letter he sent to prosecutors about the Jan. 29, 1999, slaying of Stacie Reed. According to testimony this week, Reed was killed in her home after trying to fight off Powell's sexual advances.
Jurors are scheduled to return this morning to hear arguments in the sentencing portion of the trial, and they probably will confer today about whether Powell, 24, should return to Virginia's death row. Powell is already serving three life sentences for the rape, abduction and attempted murder of Stacie Reed's sister, Kristie.
Kristie Reed, now 18, appeared pleased by the verdict, and she and her mother, Lorraine, shared a long embrace outside the courtroom. Powell, who shed tears during Tuesday's testimony, showed little reaction.
Powell was convicted of capital murder in 2000 for the same slaying, but that verdict was overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court. At the time, prosecutors had tried to link Stacie Reed's killing to Kristie Reed's rape, arguing that they were part of the same crime. Powell had been charged under a provision of Virginia's death penalty law that makes it a capital crime to commit a rape and murder as part of the same incident. The court ruled that the crimes were separate.
The case was sent back to Prince William, and Powell was to be tried on first-degree murder charges. But Powell wrote a four-page letter to Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert, sneering at him and giving up more information about the case. In the letter, Powell said he had tried to rape Stacie Reed, which prompted prosecutors to bring new capital murder charges.
Powell's defense team argued that there was no physical evidence to corroborate Powell's letter and that he sent the narrative because he wanted to insult Ebert and "because he's Paul Powell."
Defense attorneys Mark B. Williams and Carroll A. Weimer Jr. did not present any evidence during the first part of the trial, conceding that Powell had killed Stacie Reed. They argued, however, that her death wasn't a capital offense.
"There's no doubt that Paul Powell killed Stacie Reed, no doubt at all," Williams said in closing arguments yesterday. "It was a terrible, horrible crime . . . but there is nothing there to show us that he tried to rape her."
Prosecutors told the jury that there was plenty of circumstantial evidence that matched Powell's account, including autopsy results showing that Stacie Reed's face and neck were likely stomped -- injuries that were not explained before the letter.
"He believed that he had literally gotten away with capital murder, and he was going to let it all come out," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney James A. Willett. "It's a . . . unique situation."
Yesterday, Ebert nearly broke down with rare emotion while holding pictures of Stacie Reed that showed her in life and in death. His eyes reddened and his lip quivering, he slammed the photos down and asked the jurors for a capital conviction.
After the guilty verdict, jurors heard evidence for the first time from Powell's side -- in the penalty phase. In his 2000 trial, Powell would not allow his attorneys to present any evidence -- either to avoid conviction or prevent a death sentence.
Weimer called three members of Powell's family, who told jurors that he grew up in a hostile environment, constantly fighting with his father, James. James Powell testified yesterday that his son was difficult to control and often got in trouble, both at home and with the law.
Powell was first put on probation when he was 12, after he was charged with destruction of property. Social services and probation officials testified yesterday that Powell was a bright child with behavioral problems who desperately needed some sort of long-term treatment and didn't get it.
William Stejskal, a clinical psychologist who evaluated Powell both in 1999 and in 2002, testified that Powell has mental health problems that had worsened over time. Stejskal said Powell also has been on mood-stabilizing and antipsychotic medications, but even that hasn't stopped him from writing what prosecutors called "vindictive and hurtful" letters that have tormented the Reed family.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Powell is a racist who wants to kill everyone who isn't white and who characterized killing as "something to do." Powell told detectives that he admires Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson and that he killed Stacie Reed, a former neighbor and friend, because she was dating a black man.
Lorraine Reed testified yesterday that Powell destroyed her family and her marriage, filled Kristie's life with fears and nightmares and forced them from their dream home because it carried the memory of her daughter's death.
"It had become a place that was no longer a home. It was a crime scene," she said.