A Prince William County jury recommended yesterday that Paul Warner Powell be put to death for stabbing 16-year-old Stacie Reed through the heart after trying to rape her, a verdict that could send Powell back to death row for the 1999 attack.
The decision marks the second time that a Prince William jury has fixed his punishment at death, this time relying on a boastful letter Powell wrote to prosecutors in which he detailed previously unknown elements of the crime.
Powell's first capital murder conviction was overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court, and his attorneys said yesterday that his new conviction would make for a compelling appeal, largely because it tests the bounds of the constitutional protection against double jeopardy.
Jurors deliberated for about two hours yesterday after hearing three days of testimony and arguments. Prince William Circuit Court Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. is scheduled to decide on the jury's recommendation in May, when he can reduce the sentence to life in prison. In August 2000, Whisenant approved a death sentence for Powell.
Stacie Reed's family members -- including her sister Kristie, 18, who was raped, stabbed in the stomach and slashed in her throat and wrists by Powell -- said they were happy with the verdict. Lorraine Reed, the girls' mother, said she considers Powell "evil" and "not human."
"He never gave Stacie a choice. Why should he have a choice?" she said outside the courthouse. "Stacie is lying in a coffin, and he's still here. It's very important for Kristie and me for him to get the death penalty. . . . He has to suffer."
Lorraine Reed left the courtroom as one of Powell's attorneys made his closing argument, reacting emotionally to his suggestion that Powell, 24, should live the rest of his life in prison. Powell already is serving three life sentences for his attack on Kristie.
After the verdict was read, several jurors glanced over at the Reeds and nodded slightly. Powell stood unmoving and later bowed his head, reclining in his chair.
"I feel good. . . . I'm glad it's done and over with," Kristie Reed said yesterday after she and her mother hugged Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert. Kristie Reed said she had to speak for her sister: "I've got to live my life for her."
The Reeds said they hope this death sentence is approved by the judge and survives the appeals process. Powell's 2000 conviction and death sentence were overturned by the state Supreme Court when the justices ruled that Stacie Reed's murder and her sister's rape inside the Reed family home were not parts of the same crime, a necessary element for capital punishment for the section of Virginia law under which Powell was indicted.
The court ruled that Powell could not be charged with capital murder again because there was "simply no evidence upon which the jury could have relied to find that Powell committed or attempted to commit any sexual assault against [Stacie Reed] before or during her murder."
But Powell's letter -- in which he claims that he tried to rape Stacie Reed and killed her because she refused to comply -- gave prosecutors new evidence that led to a second capital murder indictment.
Carroll A. Weimer Jr. and Mark B. Williams, Powell's attorneys, said they are going to argue on appeal that Powell couldn't be charged with capital murder again because of the Supreme Court's ruling.
"We still believe it is double jeopardy," Williams said. "There are a lot of novel issues here. At some point the Virginia Supreme Court will have to explain what they meant in their holding."
Ebert said he is confident the state would win on appeal. He said the charge is different than the previous indictment, based on new information.
Powell's attorneys said he wasn't surprised by the verdict. Williams and Weimer told jurors plainly that Powell had killed Stacie Reed, but they argued that the murder wasn't eligible for the death penalty.
"There is no way to imagine the horror that was visited on that family," Weimer said in closing arguments yesterday. "He should be locked away from society, locked in prison for the rest of his life. . . . Nothing we can do will bring Stacie back."
Ebert and Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney James A. Willett pleaded with the jury for a death sentence. Willett said the Reed family would never be at ease knowing that Powell could torment them from prison, as he has done with sneering letters from his cell.
"Can you think of a circumstance in your imagination that could justify the death penalty more than the case before you today?" Willett said. Prosecutors also have said that they believe Powell would have gone on to become a serial killer. "He's a liar, he's a racist, a person who believes in genocide, a torturer of animals. He's a murderer."
Ebert said yesterday that Powell's case has evoked more personal emotion for him than most others. In court, Ebert almost broke down several times when speaking about Stacie Reed and the devastation her family has experienced.
"I've been very close with the family, if anything, perhaps too close to them," Ebert said. "They are nice people, and I hope they can go forward and live as normal a life as is possible."